Tim Lincecum went through the worst season of his career in 2012, losing 15 games with a 5.18 ERA.
And, once he struggled and got the loss in a start in Game 4 of the NLCS, that was it for him starting. But luckily, the former ace and two-time Cy Young winner has found some success…out of the bullpen.
Out of the bullpen, Lincecum has allowed one run in 10 and two-thirds innings. He came in during Game 1 of the World Series with two on and two out in the sixth inning, and he struck out Jhonny Peralta. He struck out five of the seven batters he faced, twirling two and one-thirds perfect innings.
Lincecum was perfect, as he commanded his change-up and used his slider more freely, not worrying about the potential risk of getting tired from overuse of the pitch later in the game. He is now throwing everything he has at each batter, knowing that it’s unlikely he’ll face the same hitter twice in the same game.
The two-time Cy Young winner is 1-0 with an 0.84 ERA in the postseason (out of the bullpen,) and not including the time he came in during the third inning of a 2008 game because of rain, Lincecum has a career ERA of 0.82 in the bullpen.
Maybe he doesn’t like it there as much, but the reality is that he gets to pitch in more games. The Giants crowd roars when Lincecum and his long hair trot from the dugout to the bullpen mound. It’s happened four times at AT&T Park, and twice on the road.
Lincecum’s ability to throw a lot of pitches on short rest will really help, and he can be counted on to chew up innings. If he continues to succeed, he could be a late-inning reliever or an inning-eater, providing decent relief for a whole season.
You may ask about who would replace him in the rotation, and I’ve got an answer. San Francisco has some money to spend, and they could use it on Kyle Lohse, James Shields or even Zack Greinke. The only challenge then would be assembling the rotation.
Ryan Vogelsong has a 1.42 postseason ERA, and he compiled a 3.37 ERA and 14-9 record in 2012 despite a rare rough patch. Madison Bumgarner went 16-11 with the same ERA, Zito went 15-8, and Cain compiled a 2.80 ERA and a 16-5 record.
So it’s safe to say the rotation wouldn’t have problems. Lincecum has had some struggles in the rotation, although he is perfectly capable of going deep into a game there. Bad luck played a part in Lincecum’s 5.18 ERA, and he also had some trouble pitching to Buster Posey. In fact, backup catcher Hector Sanchez became Lincecum’s battery mate, with Posey moving to first base.
Some may argue that the lack of chemistry between Posey and Lincecum would be a cause for concern, since three of the other four starters always pitch to Posey (and Zito pitches to him sometimes). But out of the bullpen, Lincecum has pitched 6.1 scoreless innings to Posey, his 2010 postseason battery mate.
He has done well pitching to Sanchez, too. Sanchez caught 4.1 innings of one-run ball from Lincecum in Game 4 of the NLDS, which was a relief appearance. So, there is no way that Lincecum will shy away from a catcher and force Posey to leave a game because he is unwilling to pitch to him (Posey).
Lincecum won’t shy away from anything, and he has done a great job accepting his role, avoiding sulking and finding some success. You could argue that Lincecum’s bullpen relief is the reason that the Giants are still playing, since he got the win in Game 4 of the NLDS, another elimination game, while saving his fellow relievers for Game 5.
That could happen again in the regular season, and there’s a good chance of it. But first, manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean have to put Lincecum in the bullpen.
And no, that’s not a punishment. I’ve been preaching Lincecum’s second half and past success for what seems like forever, and I’m still a huge fan of him. I was shocked when he was excluded from the NLDS rotation, only to watch him go 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in the NLDS.
Then, I realized having Lincecum in the tool shed for almost 162 games every year would be better than having him start 30-35 games. He can send the crowd into a frenzy just by jogging to the bullpen, which is very valuable. He can be one of those pitchers who realize throwing their best stuff at a team for a short period of time can really help, without the risk of facing the hitter again.
I don’t expect this to happen, and I think he can build on his World Series and postseason success to regain his form in the rotation. His confidence will be there, and you can expect Lincecum to go through some rigorous offseason workouts to ensure success in 2013. But there is a good argument that Lincecum can be replaced in the rotation and be used as a key reliever, and that he can fill in in the case of an injury.
Because now, he has experience pitching in the rotation and the bullpen. He’s got confidence in his stuff out of the bullpen, and he can definitely succeed in either role.
But if Lincecum is in the bullpen and the Giants find a decent replacement, the rotation will retain its elite status, and the bullpen will fall into the category of elite.
This article was originally published on Bleacher Report.