Not to lay any more pressure or responsibility on the head and shoulders of Tim Lincecum, but the San Francisco Giants aren't nearly as fun to watch with him leading the league in earned runs allowed. That might be his hair on the mound, but that's not our Timmy.
Yeah, the Giants are winning games (at least enough for second place in the NL West) and they still have very good pitching overall (Matt Cain just threw a perfect game!), but they're nowhere near as entertaining or as formidable with Lincecum pitching like he has. The Giants have gone 2-12 in Lincecum's starts, and his 53 earned runs allowed are just 13 fewer than he allowed in all of 2011. In order to get his 6.19 ERA back down where it belongs, he's going to have to start pitching again like, well, Tim Lincecum. You know, our Timmy.
People have begun to ask: Will the Giants skip Lincecum in the rotation? Once or twice? Send him to the bullpen for a couple of weeks to meditate with Sergio Romo? Even ship him to Fresno, for some minor-league seasoning? Make him pitch from the full wind-up at all times, stolen bases be darned, because he's terrible from the stretch? At least make him get a haircut, as some kind of punishment? Well, none of that is going to happen. Right now. (Except maybe a haircut, if he wants.)
The Giants announced they are sticking with Lincecum for his next scheduled start against the Oakland Athletics. Lincecum doesn't want it any other way:
"I want to pitch every fifth day. I want that ball."
You want him on that mound. You need him on that mound. And despite some ugly numbers, there are lots of good reasons for manager Bruce Bochy to keep him there.
There's a statistic called Batting Average on Balls In Play, and the .336 mark of Lincecum's opponents is unsustainably high (probably), as Fangraphs recently posted. About .300 is right for Lincecum's career. This means Timmy has been a victim of some bad luck that should even out in his favor over his next 20 (or so) starts. As the BABIP drops, so should Timmy's ERA. Of course, as blogger Mike Podhorzer points out, Linceum isn't merely unlucky. His expected ERA (represented by a stat called SIERA), should be 3.92. That's still not good enough for what we're used to from Timmy:
Even if we assume all of it is bad luck, a 3.92 SIERA is still a major disappointment. His LD% [line drive percentage] is an astounding 26.0%, while he has barely induced any pop-ups all season. His strikeout rate looks fine, but when you take into account a .335 BABIP and look at his K% instead, you realize that his strikeout ability has actually declined for a third straight year. His velocity remains way down and his Zone% is at a career low (though oddly his F-Strike% is at a career high). While his ERA will undoubtedly improve, is he going to just give his owners a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way or will vintage Lincecum show his face again at some point?
Well, it's better than 6.19, which you pretty much get when you add his ERAs from 2011 and 2010 together. Lincecum says he's healthy, and his velocity, while not top-of-the-line Lincecum (he used to throw 97-99 mph), is good enough to get people out. He'll be a better pitcher than he is now. It might take a lot of adjustments on his part — like Josh Beckett did, like anyone who ever used to throw 99 but now throws 92 did — to ever pitch like Timmy again. I'm going miss our Timmy until he gets back.