Here's something that I didn't notice until recently: Tim Lincecum kind of scares the crap out of me. After winning two Cy Young awards, pitching one of the most dominant playoff games I've ever seen, and winning a World Series-clinching game, I'm still really quick to bite my fingernails and mutter "C'mon, Timmy" whenever there's the slightest hint of bad news about him. That's true in the middle of a game -- say, whenever he issues a leadoff walk -- and it's true between starts.
And, heck, it's true in spring training. Even as the treasurer of the This Crap Doesn't Matter Club, I can't help it. And what has he done to make me feel like this? Been really, really good for four straight seasons, picking up Cy Young votes in every full season he's pitched in. Do you realize that the Reds are still screwing around with Homer Bailey, trying to figure out what they have with the guy? Same with the Yankees and Phil Hughes. Young pitchers usually don't do half of the things in a full career that Lincecum has already done.
Yet when he has a game like this, I still get nervous. There is no good reason for this. He's Tim Lincecum, not Ryan Sadowski or Ryan Jensen. There isn't another shoe that's waiting to drop, some statistical truth that's going to drag him down to reality. I think it all has to do with August, 2010. That month really screwed with my brain. I don't want to give away the twist ending, but the season ended well. There's no reason why one month in a stellar career should still be so traumatic. This is just me being an idiot. But, well, welcome to the site.
Even with the fingernail chewing during the season, though, I'll never stop predicting good seasons for Lincecum. Probably because of all the good seasons. I'm a risk-taker, I know. But it's almost like a paradox: worry about Lincecum in the short term, expect nothing to change overall. He'll be good again this year.
But how good? Here's Lincecum's first full season and his last full season:
It's not realistic to expect improvement from a season like 2008. It's like Dan Szymborski said about his ZiPS projections: If you're not projecting players to regress after truly magnificent seasons, you're doing it wrong. Still, it's just a little troubling that his control has gone in the wrong direction. And the decline in strikeouts -- while it moved him from "ethereal" to "dominant" -- doesn't correlate with his velocity decline either. His average velocity in 2011 was almost identical to his average velocity in his last Cy Young season. There's another reason for it.
I'm not smart enough to know what that is, of course. He threw tons of sliders last year -- almost 25 percent of his total pitches, according to FanGraphs -- and maybe it's easier for a hitter to put those in play when he's expecting a fastball. Maybe the fastball doesn't move as much for whatever reason. Maybe the declining strikeout rate is just a hiccup that'll be ironed out this year.
But when it comes to picking between the Lincecum who won the Cy Youngs and the Lincecum who was very good last year, it's probably safer to pick the latter. It's a safer prediction all around, and that would still be a fantastic pitcher. But because I'm not graded on these things ...
Why? Because it's spring. And also because it's the best way to be secretly cynical about him staying with the Giants after 2013.