I don’t really know if I can even call this “long awaited”, since I don’t think anybody outside of San Francisco or Anaheim even cared. But, what I can say is, Tim Lincecum’s return to the major leagues was a long, drawn-out process.
I’ve only been keeping up with the coverage of Lincecum’s path back to the majors, because it’s been so fucking weird. At one point, it was reported that 20 of the 30 major league teams were interested in Lincecum’s services this past offseason. I don’t know if the widespread interest was cause for how weird Lincecum got during the process, but it would make sense if that were the case.
As the story goes, Jon Heyman reported that Lincecum was throwing every day at a “secret location”, which was sketchy as fuck. Why does throwing a baseball need to be secret? I figured the Heyman report was just worded strangely, but no. He really was at a secret location, because he had Royals scouts escorted off the property when they found his secret location. Just bizarre shit.
Then, after delaying his showcase for interested teams month after month after month, he finally settled on a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the LA Angels a month ago today, and made his 2016 debut on Saturday. The contract is loaded with performance bonuses based on the number of starts he makes, and also the number of days that he spends on the active roster, because he is, after all, coming back from hip surgery.
Lincecum made his Angels debut on Saturday, and threw six innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, while striking out just two. That’s a pretty good outing — better than what I expected for his first time out, after having sat on the sidelines for the first half of the season. But what’s the first thing you notice? The strikeout numbers are not very Lincecum-esq. And, although it’s not exactly the greatest idea to break down how a starter is going after just one start, there is something to be said when it comes to his velocity.
When Lincecum was winning Cy Young awards, he was averaging 93-94 MPH on his fastball. On Saturday, his fastball averaged 89.57 MPH. The last start that Lincecum made with the Giants back on June 27, almost a year ago, his fastball averaged 84.97 MPH, the lowest fastball velocity for any start in his entire big league career. So, he’s got a little bit of his velocity back, but it’s nowhere near what it was when he was at the top of his game. When you can’t dial up 94 MPH when you need to, you need to get creative and have a deep selection of pitches, and mix them up to keep hitters off balance.
On Saturday, Lincecum threw 33 changeups and only allowed one hit on that pitch. He threw more changeups than fastballs (28), which is almost unheard of. But I think he’s more than aware of the current state of his fastball, and his need to get creative in order to get outs at the major league level, especially when you’re dealing with that kind of velocity. He mixed in 15 breaking pitches as kind of a show-me pitch, and only five of those were strikes. But again, it gives batters something else to think about besides fastball/changeup.
We’ll see how it goes from here. But if you’re a fan of a contending team who’s going to be looking for pitching at the trade deadline, I’m sure Lincecum is going to be a name that comes up quite a bit, if he continues to pitch well, with the Angels being 13.5 games out of first place. But I would caution — buyer beware. And I don’t mean that as in Lincecum wouldn’t be a nice little addition to a contender. I mean that in the sense of, don’t let the Lincecum name skew your perception of what he is now. Don’t let the back-to-back Cy Young awards from 7-8 years ago trick you into thinking that that’s what he still is or could eventually be again.
If how he was throwing on Saturday against the A’s was any indication of how things will go the rest of the way, it looks like he’s got a plan, and he’s been putting in work to figure out how to PITCH with the skill set that he has now. If he can do that, he’d be a nice addition to a team that needs a starter who can give you some decent innings down the stretch. That being said, I don’t think there’s any chance that Lincecum will be cracking any playoff rotations in 2016. That doesn’t mean he can’t help you get there, though.