Not that long ago, Tim Lincecum was the unquestioned king of National League pitchers. He won a pair of Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009, and strikeout crowns from 2008-2010. San Francisco was a Freak Scene every five days, the ultimate in appointment television.
These days? Lincecum is just another pitcher trying to reinvent himself, and just another pitcher that fantasy players can't seem to figure out.
Once again, a tricky theme comes through: name brands die hard.
Lincecum's start Thursday at Arizona was a mixed bag: six innings, eight hits, four runs, no walks, seven strikeouts. All the scoring came on home runs: Paul Goldschmidt connected early, Mark Trumbo went deep late. Lincecum was in the zone for 71 of his 98 pitches.
To a lot of observers, this is a pretty good turn. A bunch of strikeouts, no walks, just some bad luck on a couple of taters. But why should we give pitchers a golden pass for home runs allowed? Isn't it time we stopped looking at fly balls as some sort of giant lottery, where random hits are selected as four-baggers? Sometimes a home run is a meatball in the zone, screaming out "hit me" to the batter.
Let's take a broader look at where Lincecum's profile has moved the last two years. His velocity has fallen significantly and his strikeout percentage (while still good) has also taken a notable dip. Batters have squared Lincecum offerings like never before: his line-drive rate was 23.8 percent in 2012 and 23.1 percent last year. And his HR/FB clip has become bloated: 14.6 percent in 2012, 12.1 percent in 2013.
If you want to make excuses for Lincecum, be my guest. To me, he's a matchup play for 2014, nothing past that. He's clearly working with less stuff these days, and paying a bigger price when he doesn't hit his spots. He's made 66 starts since the beginning of 2012 and has a 4.78 ERA over that span; at some point, we have to accept the new reality, don't we?
Our game isn't about the names, amigos. We're just in it for the numbers.
• Speaking of excuses, Nate Jones might finally have one in Chicago. His infinity tour is probably shut down for a while.
Jones has faced five batters in 2014 and he's yet to retire anyone. The Twins got him for three hits earlier in the week, and Thursday he uncorked a couple of ugly walks (not even CB Bucknor could bail Jones out). After the game, the White Sox said Jones had aggravated a glute injury.
Okay, it's nice to have a reason for the problems. Jones is still making the radar gun pop, but he doesn't have any idea where the ball is going.
The Pale Hose might have a messy bullpen for a while. Nominal closer Matt Lindstrom fritted away Thursday's lead, a series of rockets and lasers (it would have been worse if not for a Bucknor gift-wrapped strikeout of Joe Mauer). There's nothing exciting in the set up crew: the ordinary Ronald Belisario is the eighth-inning bridge right now. How badly did you say you needed saves?
I added Belisario in a couple of handshake-desperate pools Thursday night, not with any confidence. I just don't trust Lindstrom and we all see Jones isn't right. Then again, Robin Ventura isn't any bargain, either. He's not going to help us, he's not going to be upfront with us. Maybe Daniel Webb enters the mix at some point. Has anyone clocked Bobby Thigpen recently?
• The Mets say Bobby Parnell has a 50-50 chance of needing Tommy John surgery, but fantasy owners probably know the score here. Rest and rehab seldom works in these instances – it usually turns out to be a case of "surgery now, or surgery later." I had one Parnell share on the ledger and already cut bait, and that's in a league where transactions are capped at 20. I'll be shocked if he's fantasy-relevant the rest of 2014.
Jose Valverde is back in our lives, and maybe he can skate by, given the league and division he works in. The Mets don't have much depth in their bullpen and Terry Collins (ever the predictable skipper) would like a push-button option for the ninth. Anything to avoid second-guessing and all that.
If you want a Flushing bat in your life, maybe Lucas Duda will impress you. Collins plans to give Duda an extended trial at first base, and that's fine with me – anything that keeps Ike Davis stapled to the bench. Duda was a surprising production source back in a snappy 2011 trial (.292/.370/.482 over 100 games), but he hasn't hit much since (.239, .223). He did click 15 homers in 318 at-bats last season, a respectable total in the shape of today's game. The Dude abides – well, awaits your pickup – in 99 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Speed Round: Every injury comes with its own share of baggage and red ink, but thumb problems are especially high on the list. Sorry about that, Ryan Braun owners. The Brewers are going to use Braun as the Friday DH at Boston, their way of handling Braun's nagging thumb problem. Keep in mind it was a bum thumb that ruined the first half of Braun's 2013 season, before the other stuff closed the deal. If someone else is willing to write a notable ticket for Braun in trade, it might be a good time to work a deal . . . Jimmy Rollins will rejoin the Phillies on Saturday; he's been on stork duty with his wife. Thankfully, this hasn't been a media mess like the Daniel Murphy hubbub in New York . . . J.J. Hardy is dealing with a cranky neck and won't play Friday . . . Jason Castro took a pitch off the right foot in Thursday's loss to New York but the X-ray came back negative. He's expected to be fine . . . Jonathan Broxton (forearm) starts a rehab assignment this weekend, and could be back with the Reds next week. The club wants to use Broxton as the ninth-inning guy while Aroldis Chapman gets well . . . The Royals are skipping Yordano Ventura after Thursday's Motown rainout. Boom, Yosted. Detroit's doing the same thing with Drew Smyly . . . Pedro Strop closed out the first Cubs victory of the year, intriguing to see given Jose Veras's blown chance the prior day . . . The Red Sox know they have to handle Grady Sizemore carefully, and with that he was out of the lineup Thursday at Baltimore. The plan is for Sizemore to start the next two games, then take a rest Sunday . . . David Robertson's first save chance was a walk in the park: perfect inning, one strikeout at Houston . . . Doug Fister (lat) is getting close to a throwing date, with the hope that he can pitch in early May. I'd bet against that tidy a return, but it's not my club or my investment.