Before there was a Game 1 of the NLDS or a Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, there was August, 2010. That was the month in which Tim Lincecum was completely broken.
He didn't even have any saves, either.
It's hard to remember now, but there was panic. Pure, unfettered panic. National writers were wondering if there was something to that pre-draft theory that Lincecum was too small, wee, and frail to hold up as a starting pitcher. Some of the most brilliant minds of our generation came up with elaborate new theories.
Then Lincecum stopped cutting his nails so short, and he was fine. Or he started cutting them shorter. Or he tweaked his release point by a millimeter. Or he started playing long toss. Something. Whatever he did, it worked, and then he ... well, let's just use this technology stuff to watch what happened
Still the best pitching performance I've ever watched in person. It's like the Braves' advance scout got drunk and wrote a scouting report for Felix Rodriguez instead.
"ONLY THROWS FASTBALLS...WILL NOT THROW A BREAKING BALL UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES...IS RETIRED AND FROM A TOTALLY DIFFERENT COUNTRY...OH, MAN, I COULD GO FOR AN EGG MCMUFFIN RIGHT NOW, I'M SO HUNGRY...
And for whatever reason, the Braves listened to him and just flailed at the offspeed stuff. It was an amazing performance.
This all made for a very confusing projection before the 2011 season.
Scary: The climb in walks at the same time his strikeout rate is dropping.
Beautiful: The overall performance, as long as you don't hold it to his previous standards
Annoying: He actually finished 13-14. I mean, wins and losses are mostly useless, but, man. That is just embarrassing and horrible and embarrassing. The W/L stat might be useless, but it sure does stare you in the face when you're looking at someone's Baseball-Reference page.
There are two ways to look at this. The first is that Lincecum can get better. He has a lot of moving parts in his windup, and if he ever perfects his mechanics -- or at least returns to the mechanics he had in 2009 -- he can get a lot better. The second is that these numbers are a harbinger of something bad. As in, there's some bad omen found in Lincecum's strikeout rate moving from historically great to just among the best today, especially while his walks have spiked.
Could be the first. Could be the second. Could be neither, and he just repeats his 2011 for the next ten years. One thing I'm thrilled with: Lincecum isn't the free agent after this season. As much as I love him, and as much as I want to get his face tattooed on my face so I could have a Tim Lincecum face on my face, I think I need one more year to determine if he's worth something that would blow away the Zito contract. Well, as much as any pitcher could be.
Lincecum had a good year in 2011. I figured he would, as did most of the people who commented in that projection thread. But I think that August will always stick with me. I'm not sure that a pitcher can be more awesome while still making me a little skittish. He's found the perfect equilibrium between the two.