It was probably time last April or May, but it's really time now.
Let's talk a little bit about velocity. Here's a guy throwing as hard as Barry Zito and making a hitter look silly:
Chris Young is 12'4" and releases the ball six inches from the plate, but the overall point stands. Pitchers can survive a loss of velocity if there is enough command and deception with their fastball. We've seen enough hitters swing through an 89-mph Tim Lincecum fastball to know that he can still deceive as well as any of the most dishonest pitchers in baseball. The hitter still has to respect the offspeed stuff and Lincecum hides the ball well enough, so I figure he has a chance to live with reduced velocity, just like Young up there.
Additional proof, if needed:
It's command, then. When we're hoping that Lincecum returns to the land of the useful, we have to assume that his velocity is never returning, but that his command will still improve. If there's just one reason to keep Lincecum in a major league rotation, it's to hope that everything pops into place for him so he can put the ball where he wants it.
It's at this point that you should be tugging your collar and making Bochy noises. You know who else would have been dynamite with perfect command? Jonathan Sanchez. Shawn Estes. Russ Ortiz. If those guys could throw quality strikes, they might all still be pitching today. The problem with command is that it's not always a matter of time and patience. You don't wake up at six every day, spend an hour at the command gym with a personal command trainer, and show off hella cut command-abs three months later. Sometimes the command never comes, even with repetition and hard work.
Yet again, the only reason to keep Lincecum in a rotation right now is because there's still a chance could show up. The belief in the command coming back is it. I wish I didn't use my yearly Great Pumpkin reference last week because it fits even better here. The Giants are waiting in the pumpkin patch for Tim Lincecum's command. It could come. The rewards would be ample, almost enough to make it worthwhile.
Of course, The Great Pumpkin isn't real. Probably isn't real. So it'll be awhile.
The problem with command vs. control is that you can't really search through history for command. As in, how many times a pitcher left a ball in the middle of the plate when he wanted to nip a corner. That's not in Baseball-Reference.com. It's the only thing, give or take. One day, with the lasers and the hey hey hey, maybe we'll get Average Movement of Catcher's Mitt stat. Until then, the best we can do is use walks per nine innings as a proxy for command.
Since 1990, there have been 69 pitchers who threw more than 1,000 innings before turning 30 and walked more than three batters for every nine innings they threw. There's a five-player stretch that goes Livan Hernandez, Jamey Wright, Russ Ortiz, Bartolo Colon, and Shawn Estes, which makes me think the universe is trying to tell us whom the Giants are going to acquire soon. Basically, I wanted to find the pitchers good enough and healthy enough to sick around for a while, even with imperfect control.
Of those 69, here are the ones who got their BB/9 under 3.00 in their 30s:
The Colon comparison is one I've brought up before, considering his remarkable transition from brainless chucker to refined artisan. The Anibal Sanchez one is interesting, but we're just a season into it. Mostly, though, I can find a reason to hate every one of those comps for Lincecum. Too left-handed, too many relief innings, too traditional of a pitching motion ... really, I don't like any of them, other than Colon. Even then, I only half-like that comp, mostly because it makes me think of Lincecum and Colon in a buddy-cop movie, riding around and getting into adventures together.
The statistical evidence is against Lincecum improving his command with more innings. The anecdotal evidence is against him. His strikeout rate is falling. His velocity is still dropping. The choices are to keep tying what the Giants have been trying over the last three years, and hope the Great Command flies into the command patch, or to hope that Lincecum picks up some velocity in a move to the bullpen, which will get him closer to where he was.
The Giants are considering the latter. It's time. I don't blame them for dilly-dallying and hoping everything would fix itself, because that's what I was hoping for, too. It's time, though. We're almost 100 starts into the new, sad Tim Lincecum era. I don't know if there's even a half-decent reason to give it another 100.
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