Tim Lincecum’s February Showcase

Some know him as “The Freak”, while others like myself know him as “Big Time Timmy Jim“. Tim Lincecum is planning on showing if he’s got anything left in the tank sometime next month. This year he had some problems with his hip and ended up getting surgery in mid-September. Here’s a link to a some info about hip labrum surgery for those who are interested. Early in his career he was one of the most dominant starters out there and you could make an argument that for a short period he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Over the last four years he’s become a dependable 4th or 5th starter, but the 2015 season was one of the worst of his career.

Age has seemingly caught up with another pitcher. Lincecum is yet another example of a pitcher whose velocity peaked early in his career and has been on a decline ever since. We don’t have PITCHf/x data for his rookie 2007 season, but we have the data for the rest of his career. Besides the 2011 season where he regained some form, he’s shown a pretty consistent decline in velocity over time.

To me, the obvious outlier is the most recent season where he saw his average fastball velocity dip below 88 MPH and about 2 MPH slower than the 2014 season. This is where we can see how his hip issues affected his velocity on the mound. Below is table with his peripheral stats (excluding his rookie season). To give a quick overview, K/9 has been trending downward, possibly relating to his diminished velocity. It doesn’t look like his BB/9 or HR/9 has any significant trend, but FIP has almost always been more generous than ERA.

Season K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
2008 10.51 3.33 0.44 2.62 2.62
2009 10.42 2.72 0.40 2.48 2.34
2010 9.79 3.22 0.76 3.43 3.15
2011 9.12 3.57 0.62 2.74 3.17
2012 9.19 4.35 1.11 5.18 4.18
2013 8.79 3.46 0.96 4.37 3.74
2014 7.75 3.64 1.10 4.74 4.31
2015 7.07 4.48 0.83 4.13 4.29

As I said before, Lincecum recently had hip surgery and I assume he is nearing the end of his rehab since he’s planning a February showcase to try and secure another contract. Given his uncertain injury status, and his performance over the last four years, he’s likely only going to be able to secure a 1-year contract possibly with some performance bonuses. Teams are definitely taking a risk if they decide to sign him, since over the last two years he has been just slightly above replacement level, accumulating o.1 WAR in 2014 and 0.3 WAR in 2015. I’ll also mention that as a starter in 2014 he was worth 0.3 WAR, and he was worth -0.2 WAR as a reliever.

He’s certainly not the most imposing pitcher to ever set foot on the mound, standing 5′ 11″ and weighing in at 170 lbs (maybe with a wet towel wrapped around his waist); he’s one of those pitchers who needs to use his whole body to gain the necessary momentum to get those 90+ MPH fastballs. If you go back and look at the fastball velocity chart above it’s pretty clear that there was a significant drop in velocity this previous season. I think it’s pretty fair to think that his hip issues had something to do with that phenomenon. Here’s a link to an article from MLB Trade Rumors with some info about his surgery. I remember reading a more in-depth article earlier in the off-season saying that his hip issues were screwing with his mechanics, but I’ve been unable to find a link to that story. But the takeaway should be that he wasn’t healthy. He wasn’t able to generate the necessary power due to his hip issues and his velocity suffered as a result.

So the question becomes, if the surgery was a success and his rehab goes well, what can we reasonably expect from him for the upcoming season? Well that is definitely a tricky question since he’s almost 32, he’s two years removed from throwing in the 90s, and there’s the possibility that he won’t be back with the team that drafted him. I think in the best-case scenario we could see him start hitting his 2012-2013 velocity (~90.3 MPH) and if that’s the case we could start to see his K/9 creep up to around the 9.0 mark again. But that’s just my opinion and my opinion means basically nothing, so I’ll include a comparison.

I was only able to find one example of a pitchers who’d undergone the same type of surgery as Lincecum and that was Charlie Morton. In October 2011 he also underwent the hip surgery. You can check out his velocity chart below. He also had Tommy John the following June so if you’ll humour me and ignore the elbow issues you’ll see that his velocity over the 2011 season dropped from 94 to just under 92, only to return to 95+ after recovery from TJ.

Over the last two years Lincecum has amassed 0.4 WAR and made $35 million. There is no doubt that the Giants overpaid for his service over the last couple of years and I can’t see him getting anywhere near that annual salary. If we go by the market rate of ~$8 million/WAR, on a bounceback contract where a team expects a 0.5 WAR season we could see a contract in the ballpark of $4 million. Even that seems high to me; if I were to venture a guess I would put it around the $2-million mark with incentives. I’m definitely not saying he’s going to be the pitcher from five years ago, but a dependable 4th or 5th starter with the potential to strike out almost 200 batters sounds pretty awesome to me. You’ve always got to wonder if he’s got any magic left in him. Baseball is better with The Freak in it and hopefully he gets back on the mound soon.

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“I’m definitely not saying he’s going to be the pitcher from five years ago, but a dependable 4th or 5th starter with the potential to strike out almost 200 batters sounds pretty awesome to me.”

I think that is the whole issue. Timmy is pretty much an unknown, you cannot even count on him being dependable, and even if he were, what level of dependable will he be? Could be a very wide array of possibilities.

You covered those possibilities rather well, but I still think its all lightening in a bottle. The question is would he be willing to take a minor league deal, if no one offers him an MLB spot or a chance to fight for one?


If I have time later to find the article for you, I’ll post it, but basically in any article right after his surgery, his Doctor was quoted as saying that it was his hip problems that was screwing around with his mechanics, and that now that his hip is fixed up, his velocity will return.

Of course, many people jumped to conclusion that the Big Time Jimmy Tim velocity of 95+ MPH will return, but I agree with you that 90-ish is probably the bar that we will be looking at when he does his showcase.

And that’s the problem for him now, his agent says that he won’t do the showcase until he’s 100% but spring training starts in basically two weeks and the showcase isn’t scheduled yet. The “almost 30” teams interested in him that his agent was quoted as saying will start dissipating once spring training starts, I think, and if any teams were contemplating giving him an MLB contract, him missing anything more than the first week or two of spring training should pretty much kill any interest in giving him a guaranteed contract.

The scenario I see is that Lincecum probably would accept the highest MLB contract offered, as that gives some assurance of a 25-man roster spot. He wants to start but I think being on a 25-man roster on opening day appeals more to him, even as a reliever, than getting a chance to start but facing the possibility of ending up in the minors.

That’s why I think that there is a good chance that Lincecum could end up returning to the Giants. They want him back, he would love to be back. Even with all the signings, they still state their interest in getting him back, unlike Vogelsong, who they openly thanked and wished well after the signings. They have no starting spots open, but the long relief role is open, and the Giants do incentive contracts often, including incentives based on both relief and starting possibilities (basically tied to innings; only starters pile a lot of innings).

The question is whether other teams can beat that type of offer. If a team offers him a starting spot (and he got one if a miracle happens and he throws 92+ MPH), he’s gone most probably, depending on the incentives that team can offer. And I’ll thank him and wish him the best.

But the longer it takes him to get to 100%, and especially if it gets pushed into spring training (originally, the showcase was suppose to happen in January, so his hip has not been healing as fast as the doctor thought it would), teams will get progressively wary about taking him on, as the risk would increase in their minds. Interest and $ would drop.

Money is not that important to him, but if the Giants offer incentives that gets him starter’s money, while other team’s stop way short, I think he’ll go for the possibility of starter’s money, even if he’s not in the starting rotation. I like Jake Peavy, but he’s had many a season where he don’t make it through, and I love Cainer but he needs to prove he can still make it through a season. Plus, you never know, TINSTAAPP, and he’ll be returning to a place he likes to work at. And especially if the Giants gives him the long relief role, while other teams only invite him to spring training.