Jul 11, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) look across the field from the Giants dugout before the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Should Tim Lincecum Go to the Bullpen in 2015?

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The San Francisco Giants lost the series finale to the Kansas City Royals yesterday, and they were ultimately swept in the series. Tim Lincecum started the series finale for the Giants, and his struggles on the road continued, as he gave up seven hits and six earned runs.

This season, Lincecum has a respectable 3.51 ERA at home. However, Lincecum has a horrid 5.98 ERA on the road. This makes some sense given the pitcher-friendly atmosphere at AT&T Park, but a 5.98 ERA on the road is simply unacceptable.

Ever since Lincecum showed the first signs of decline in 2012, he’s had trouble with consistency in command. When he has command of all his pitches, he’s the reliable starter that threw two no-hitters in the past two seasons. When he doesn’t have consistent command, he becomes extremely predictable and hittable for opposing offenses.

He’s also had to evolve as a pitcher, given his struggles. Given the lower velocity and higher predictability of his pitches, he’s had to rely more on scouting reports to get batters out instead of just his pure athleticism and freaky delivery.

Unfortunately for the Giants, they never know which Lincecum they’re going to see these days. Will the inconsistent, unreliable pitcher show up, or will “The Freak” who won two Cy Young Awards show up?

When describing Lincecum’s 2014 season so far, one could use the phrase…well, inconsistent. Shocker. Lincecum had a 5.96 ERA in April, a 2.86 ERA in May, a 4.88 ERA in June, a 3.68 ERA in July, and a 8.68 ERA in August.

If someone was to display this trend on a graph, it would look like a rollercoaster. His season has certainly gone along the peaks and troughs of a typical rollercoaster.

In addition to this overall inconsistency, Lincecum has had different results with different catchers. With Buster Posey behind the plate, Lincecum has a 7.71 ERA in 21 innings. With Andrew Susac behind the plate, Lincecum has a 9.95 ERA in 12.2 innings. With Hector Sanchez behind the plate, Lincecum has a 3.20 ERA in 104 innings.

The small sample sizes for the statistics involving Posey and Susac have to be taken into consideration, but based on these numbers and just the simple eye test, it’s apparent that Lincecum and Sanchez have built a nice rhythm and chemistry together.

Unlike some fans believe, there is no drama behind Bruce Bochy‘s decision to have Sanchez be Lincecum’s personal catcher. This isn’t some subtle hint at a personal feud between Posey and Lincecum. This is purely a baseball decision. Lincecum feels comfortable with Sanchez, and vice versa.

Also, Bochy doesn’t have Posey catch Lincecum because of Lincecum’s tendency to create “crappy contact”. Bochy wants to save Posey from the erratic contact off the bat that Lincecum usually creates.

Sanchez has been out with a concussion for a couple weeks now, and this has led some to believe that Lincecum’s recent struggles relate to the absence of Sanchez. Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group discusses this:

Has he been less effective since Hector Sanchez started suffering concussion problems? That’s factually true, and I have no doubt Lincecum feels that way. Which makes it even more true.

But it’s tough to say that Lincecum threw that fat 79-mph hanger to Alex Gordon yesterday only because it was Susac back there, not Sanchez.

So what can the Giants do about Lincecum’s struggles?

Ever since his dominant performances in the 2012 postseason, people have suggested that Lincecum might be best suited for a role in the bullpen. It wouldn’t make any sense to move Lincecum to the bullpen this season because of Matt Cain‘s injury and the Giants’ inability to replace Lincecum in the starting lineup, but would this be a smart move for the 2015 season?

There are a lot of factors that would go into moving Lincecum to the bullpen. Obviously, convincing Lincecum would be a big part of this. However, he proved in the 2012 postseason that he has the right mindset and ability to be a reliever and be successful at it. He can prepare himself quickly in a relief setting, and he likes working under pressure.

Another factor involved with this potential decision is his salary. Lincecum is making $17 million this year, and he’s set to make $18 million next year. The thought of paying a relief pitcher $18 million is a little insane, but at this point, it doesn’t matter.

Yes, $18 million for a reliever is a lot. In addition, there aren’t many two-time Cy Young winners with two recent no-hitters under their belt that have been moved to the bullpen.

However, his contract is already settled, so the Giants need to focus on how to get the best out of Lincecum for the remainder of his contract. This might mean sending him to the bullpen.

The Giants would also possibly have to add more starting pitching depth in the offseason, if they decided to put Lincecum in the bullpen.

The Giants could decide to re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and Jake Peavy, which would give them a starting rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson, Cain (if healthy at the start of spring training), Vogelsong, and Peavy. They could also decide to not re-sign Vogelsong or Peavy and find another starting pitcher to plug in.

It doesn’t seem likely that the Giants would make the bold, and almost unheard of, move of converting one of their faces of the franchise and a former dominant starting pitcher into a relief pitcher. The Giants moving Posey to third base next season would make a little more sense and wouldn’t be such a drastic move.

Although it’s unlikely, the Giants could at least explore the idea of moving Lincecum to the bullpen for 2015.

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Tags: Buster Posey Hector Sanchez San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum

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