Let Lincecum Go
The contract the Giants gave Tim Lincecum isn’t nearly as long as the one they gave Barry Zito, so it’s not quite as painful, but it was equally as stupid. Lincecum hasn’t even been an average pitcher since 2011; he’s posted negative WARs the last three years, meaning he’s been worse what you can expect from a “replacement level” player. He’s just not a viable starting pitcher for a team with playoff aspirations anymore, even as a fifth starter, and at 30 years old he should be entering the downside of his career physically as well. All the signs are trending the wrong direction with Lincecum; there’s nothing you can point to as a reason for optimism. It could get worse, and it’s bad already.
Moving Lincecum to the bullpen, an idea that seems to have been embraced by Giants with a shocking and disappointing amount of enthusiasm, is not feasible. Lincecum frequently struggles in the first inning even in his good starts, taking time to find his command and rhythm. That doesn’t translate well to coming out of the bullpen, where you need to be effective immediately. Giving up two runs in the first inning of a six inning start is still a good game, giving up two runs in the first inning of a two inning relief appearance isn’t. Lincecum is also horrendous at holding runners on (something he’s never improved on in all his time in the majors), and at pitching out of the stretch in general. As a long reliever he would frequently have to enter the game in the middle of innings, when the starting pitcher gets in trouble, and with his issues with command early and his complete inability to slow down the opposition’s running game, can you think of a pitcher more ill-suited for the job?
All of this is basically irrelevant, however, because the bottom line is he just can’t get major league hitters out anymore. This hope that he will somehow be a dominant reliever is a nostalgia induced delusion. It’s based off watching him do it decently two or three times (on those occasions he’s so bad he can’t stay in the rotation) and extrapolating that means he’d be enormously successful at it. We have hundreds of innings of evidence now that he’s just not a good pitcher. His WHIP over the last three years is close to 1.40, which means he’s allowing almost a baserunner and a half per inning. This discussion over changing the context of what part of the game Lincecum pitches in is just masking over the problem that having Lincecum pitch at all is a bad idea.
I am not trying to hate on Lincecum. I cherish watching him pitch during those early years, with that electric split that would make hitters’ arms buckle. Probably the two players I’ve enjoyed watching the most in my time as a Giants fan are Barry Bonds and Tim Lincecum. I was there for the excitement of having “Lincecum Day” every five days, when even if the team was bad he was a must watch. Just like how with peak Bonds you were disappointed when he singled, with peak Lincecum you were disappointed when he induced a weak groundout, you were expecting the K. When he was good, there were few better, but those days are well in the past, and trying to do logical gymnastics to find him a situation where he won’t suck isn’t helping the Giants. He’s our guy, I get it, but is watching him get knocked around most times he goes out there really what you want? “Lincecum Day” used to be an event, a reason for excitement and optimism, now if “Lincecum Day” happens on the road in Milwaukee it’s a reason for sadness and concern, and frankly downright panic lately. I don’t want Tim Lincecum to make me sad, and bringing him back as starter in 2015 and he hoping he magically pitches like its 2011 again is going to work about as well as that did in 2014 and 2013 (not well). The Giants still owe him close to 20 million dollars next year, so it’s unlikely that they’ll just cut him from the roster, but it’s time to move on, and the sooner the Giants do that the better.