San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum’s Velocity Important, but Not Most Important

May 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco Giants will be present at Tim Lincecum’s showcase, and while his velocity is important, it’s not the most important thing.

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After months of waiting, former two-time National League Cy Young Award winner and favorite of San Francisco Giants‘ fans Tim Lincecum will finally hold his showcase, where he will throw for teams to prove that offseason surgery on his hip has helped him regain his once-otherworldly dominant form. Understandably, there’s a lot of interest for the diminutive right-hander known as “The Freak”. It’s been said that more than 20 teams will be present when Lincecum takes center stage, and the Giants will be one of them.

The Giants’ interest has been said to go no further than putting Lincecum in the bullpen in a long reliever role. But if the Giants can sign Lincecum, bringing him back to the only big league team he’s ever known, a more prominent spot could open up for Lincecum in the near future.

San Francisco has an extremely solid top-three in their rotation. Madison Bumgarner has fought through some mechanical issues in the early part of the season, but has still been nearly dominant as the team’s number one. Johnny Cueto has filled in behind Bumgarner and proven to be a more-than-capable second ace. Jeff Samardzija has a new pitching motion, and has ridden his filthy stuff to a hot start in a new uniform. Behind those three, it has been downright ugly.

Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are struggling through rough starts to the season, and that’s putting it nicely. They have been obvious liabilities so far for the team, and though manager Bruce Bochy has publicly backed his guys, the leash has to be getting shorter and shorter as the innings get longer and longer. That’s where Lincecum comes in.

Lincecum is not ready to pitch in the major leagues right now, no matter what his showcase says. He hasn’t pitched from a big league rubber against big league hitters since June 27th last year, nearly 10 months ago. He will need time to readjust to facing live hitters in live game situations. He might need a month in the minor leagues, in sort of a rehab stint/extended spring training assignment. That would give the Giants more time to evaluate Peavy and Cain, giving the veterans a chance to prove that either they still have something left, or the tank is just about empty.

That’s looking extremely far ahead. The showcase still has to come, and Lincecum will show teams if he’s actually throwing 91, like is rumored. Maybe he is throwing that hard, and will gain even more velocity as he works his body, and his surgically-repaired hips back in to shape.

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Lincecum regaining that velocity is important, especially after his 2015 season. In his 15 starts last year, Lincecum’s fastball averaged just 87.5 miles per hour, over two miles slower than his past low mark. His slider averaged 78.6 mph, and his curveball averaged 73.8 mph, both about two miles slower than the past low. Facing Lincecum last season was like facing him in slow motion, so obviously an uptick in velocity would be a huge factor towards getting Lincecum a new deal.

But increased power on the fastball isn’t the only thing that will benefit Lincecum. If there was ever an achilles heel for Lincecum, even in his most dominant days, it was his control. He would routinely miss the target, but back when he could pump 97 through a hitter and featured some of the most devastating breaking balls in the game, he could get away with it. A missed target didn’t mean much when it missed bats, as well.

Lincecum didn’t have that luxury in the latter stages of his tenure with the Giants. When fastball velocity diminished, throwing away from a target on the corner and having a ball leak over the plate meant that ball would be hit hard, more often that not. In 2015, his “hard hit percentage” (balls in play classified as hit with hard speed) was 34.6 percent, the highest mark of his career (according to fangraphs).

To succeed, Lincecum doesn’t need to find that 97 mile per hour fastball again. He can succeed without that high rate of speed, as long as he’s controlling his pitches. There’s countless examples of pitchers who succeed with fastballs that barely crack 90. One is Lincecum’s former teammate, Yusmeiro Petit. Petit spent four seasons in the orange and black, and never averaged more than 88.7 miles on his fastball. He succeeded because he hit his targets time and time again, and could deceive hitters with a delivery that was tough to pick up. Lincecum has the deception, but is just lacking the command.

One of the best pitchers to ever take a mound, Greg Maddux, barely threw his fastball over 90 at any point in his career. He won 355 games in his 23-year career because he was able to locate his pitches like no one else (he retired with a career 1.8 walks per nine innings rate). Lincecum’s obviously not going to find Maddux-like control at this point in his career, but something that comes even anywhere near that would go a long way.

Next: Josh Osich Climbing the Bullpen Depth Chart

Lincecum will find a job somewhere. He’ll probably get a starter’s gig, just as he has made known that he wishes to find. It may even come with the Giants. But wherever he goes, a more polished style as a pitcher will be what drives his success.