The Unraveling of Tim Lincecum


Watching San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum pitch the last few years is analogous to a lot of things in life, it seems.

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Forrest Gump would say his pitching is “like a box of chocolates, ya never know what you’re gonna get.” Or you might even say the last few years of watching Lincecum pitch is like being thrown into the sarlacc from Return of the Jedi- slowly being digested over 1,000 years.

However you want to describe Lincecum’s career, as a fan who has followed him since late in his University of Washington career, it certainly was a blast to watch in the beginning. Back in 2006, I had decided to restart my childhood hobby of collecting baseball cards. I had heard of a whirlwind pitcher who was small in stature but was likely to be a high pick in that year’s draft. Lo and behold, that pitcher was selected with the tenth overall pick by the Giants. I decided that this was the guy I was going to collect.

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And so began my fandom of Tim Lincecum. It didn’t matter that I was actually an Oakland Athletics fan. I had researched him, loved his unorthodox pitching motion, and respected the fact that he didn’t care what the baseball purists said about his size and longevity. I was going to collect almost anything I could get my hands on.

As it turned out, Lincecum turned in a solid rookie year in 2007, followed by back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He went to four straight All-Star games from 2008 to 2011, and became a world champion for the first time in 2010. Lincecum was simply electrifying, striking out more than a batter per inning along the way. I looked like a genius for collecting this freak of pitcher, and all of San Francisco adored him.

Jul 30, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) reacts during the third inning of the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Then, 2012 happened. Lincecum’s ERA exploded to 5.18 and he labored throughout his starts. He became extremely inefficient, walking 4.4 batters every nine innings pitched and averaging 100 pitches per start despite only averaging about five innings per start. Most alarming though, was the drop in velocity on his fastball. His fastball velocity in 2008 was 94 MPH, and just four years later it had inexplicably dropped to 90 MPH.

The year ended in a bittersweet fashion for Lincecum, as the Giants went on to win the World Series with Lincecum mainly used as a reliever. He continued to struggle through 2013 and 2014, and pitched just 1.2 innings in one relief appearance on the road to their 2014 World Series championship.

After showing some signs of resurgence this season, Lincecum suffered through some rough starts before hitting the disabled list after being hit by a liner to his right arm on June 27. To make matters worse, it was announced earlier this week that despite recovering from his arm injury, a degenerative condition had been found in both of his hips.

At this point, you have to wonder whether Giants’ fans have seen the last of Lincecum on the mound for the Giants. Looking even further, you have to wonder about his baseball future beyond this season. Who wants a pitcher whose fastball now comes in at 87.5 MPH, and has shown issues locating other pitches?

It has been sobering for myself and Giants’ faithful to watch the slow decay of a real fan favorite. At least I still have my Lincecum collection to remember the good times.

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