What Would A Bad Spring Training Mean for Tim Lincecum?

Entering each spring training, there’s always going to be a headline. For the San Francisco Giants, it was Buster Posey’s recovery process last year. Each time he stepped on the field, the microscope dialed in on his every movement.

Oct 10, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) walks to the dugout after pitching in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds in game four of the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The pressure is undoubtedly on Tim Lincecum in 2013. For one, he can become a free agent following the season, and a bad year would force him to enter free agency with no leverage, which would be a waste of a good opportunity.

It’s not like the 2013-2014 free agent market for starting pitchers is extremely slim. However, there isn’t a ton of depth at the same time. Thus, a good year would assure Lincecum of a decent contract, if not more. But anything short of an average season would put Lincecum in the second or third tier of starting pitchers.

Lincecum’s effort to recapture his Cy Young form begins this week, as pitchers and catchers start to report to Scottsdale.

However, what Lincecum does in spring training should be neglected. In other words, a few awful starts shouldn’t cause the Giants to go into panic mode. A few good starts, though, would certainly be a change.

A good change, to be sure, as Lincecum has never performed well in spring training. With the exception of 2012, never have his spring woes dragged into the regular season, though. Take a look at the chart below.

Year Spring Training ERA Regular Season ERA
2007 6.43 4.00
2008 4.50 2.62
2009 4.03 2.48
2010 6.94 3.43
2011 4.37 2.74
2012 5.70 5.18

As the table uncovers, some of his best years started with bad spring trainings. Whether it’s the Arizona heat or something about the meaningless exhibition games—at least for Lincecum—he’s always created panic among the Giants’ coaching staff in February and March.

Something about 2012 was different, however.

For one, Lincecum nixed the slider from his arsenal, noting that he didn’t throw a single slider all spring training. The move was made to take some pressure off his arm, and the slider does indeed put a significant amount of pressure on the arm.

However, this arsenal subtraction caused some tension throughout San Francisco’s fan base, as the slider had always been one of Lincecum’s most reliable strikeout pitches.

For his career, opposing batters are hitting south of .200 off the pitch, and the pitch has a SwSr (total number of pitches a batter swings and misses on) percentage of 17.9, which still appoints it as his best off-speed pitch. So, dropping such an effective pitch seemed crazy at the time, and that remained the consensus until he slowly began to work it back into his repertoire.

Eventually, the two-time Cy Young award winner brought it back for good. His season was all but lost at that point, though. Worse, his confidence was absent from April on, and his fastball seemed dead, which made his off-speed pitches less effective, specifically his changeup.

Speaking of his fastball…

Well, the story of his slower fastball has been beaten to death for a good part of the past year. And until pundits see that Lincecum’s zippy fastball is gone for good, it will continue to be a focal point. Yes, that means in spring training.

Not to be mistaken, though, Lincecum isn’t the same flame-thrower that he once was. In 2012, his average fastball speed was 90.4 miles per hour (MPH), which was two MPH slower than his 2011 average, and over four MPH slower than his 2008 average.

Oct 18, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) is taken out of the game during the fifth inning of ame four of the 2012 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

There’s some hope that Lincecum’s velocity could return in 2013.

During Fan Fest media day on Friday, something other than his new haircut also generated some discussion—his weight. According to the Sacramento Bee, Lincecum put on close to 10 pounds over the offseason, which counteracts the strategy he took in 2012.

The “Freak” entered 2012 having lost roughly 22 pounds in the offseason, shedding his famous In-N-Out trips, and going on a swimming regime. The presumed hope was that the deducted weight would increase his durability, and ultimately give him less of a load to carry. We know how this story ends.

Regardless, Lincecum’s spring training starts shouldn’t carry much value. Still, a few hiccups will cause a stir among the fans.

Given Lincecum’s spring track record, Giants fans won’t truly know which Lincecum will show up until the regular season begins.

Topics: San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum

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