Look, if you want a long post with actually insightful baseball analysis through statistics, read this post by our very own Roger. In the meantime, I’m going to prove Tim Lincecum’s #1 career comp isn’t actually Doug Drabek, it’s the primetime television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I’m not afraid of the maths, it’s just that my brain isn’t quite compatible with algebra and beyond. My SAT math score was of the "Hey, at least he showed up" variety and I passed high school geometry despite never solving a proof correctly. So, there’s that. I don’t question math’s usefulness; I am desperate for these projection systems and stat categories as data points when evaluating teams and players, but I am fully incapable of being consistently handy with them.
But TV shows? That’s where I’m a Viking! And I think I’m really on to something here. My extensive preliminary analysis (conducted in traffic while commuting to and from work, over a single day) indicates that it is possible to evaluate and project player performance by comparing them to concluded TV series. TVcompnalysis © is going to be the next big thing.
You are hereby warned that I am running spoilers.exe, so, if you don’t want to know anything about seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer then you should be really, really careful when you skim through the brilliance that follows…
The show had a mythology it needed to sell the audience before telling Buffy’s weekly adventures, and did so via a voice over:
In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.
The character of Buffy Summers was conceived by writer/director Joss Whedon as a way of subverting the classic archetype of the blonde damsel in distress. The girl walking through a dark alleyway in the middle of the night wasn’t the one who had to fear for her life, it was her would-be attackers.
Setting that aside, within the world created for the character, Buffy herself was atypical for vampire slayers. She didn’t look the part – she preferred to go to the mall and wear makeup and designer clothes. She wanted to hang out with friends and go to parties. The whole responsibility angle to being The Chosen One was something she ignored. She rejected the formality of it all and preferred to do things her own way.
If Tim Lincecum is nothing else (hah!) he is the subversion of the classic power pitcher archetype. His appearance, his unorthodox delivery, his small frame were all derided by the establishment which by his own ability he had rejected already. He didn’t fit the mold of a major leaguer, but he was better than most of them anyway. Buffy Summers wound up living/surviving longer than any Chosen One before her. Turns out that being an orthodox slayer guaranteed a short lifespan. You know, on account of having to fight hordes of vampyrs nightly. Tim Lincecum’s back to back Cy Young awards are certainly an indication of his dominance and suggests a similar "life span" against Major League hitters.
The series ran for seven seasons (1997-2003) and produced 144 episodes. As we examine Lincecum’s career we will see how closely it mirrors Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s success and because of their similarities we will be able to project his performance over the next two seasons in a Giants uniform.
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Relevant episode(s): "Welcome to the Hellmouth" (Pilot)
Relevant start(s): Debut vs. Phillies
Buffy the Vampire Slayer burst onto the scene as sort of the "not your typical high school show". It debuted March 10, 1997 (damn I’m old) on The WB Television Network. Yes, that was a real network. It was a new network with no hits and no buzz.
Tim Lincecum debuted May 6, 2007 for a terrible San Francisco Giants team that had nothing going for it except for the excitement of his debut and Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the all-time home run crown. It was a team that couldn’t hit and had no buzz (except, again, for Barry Bonds being amazing).
The Freak was The Chosen One. He was going to lead the next generation of Giants baseball into a future filled with success.
The Buffy pilot showed us a new world full of promise with excitement and a wicked sense of humor, crackling dialogue and familiar yet different characters who quickly gained our sympathies. The format of the show dictated that each week Buffy Summers would deal with typical high school problems ("Oh noes, I’m the new girl at school!" "Oh noes, I have a crush on my teacher!" "Oh noes, nobody pays attention to me!") but against a supernatural backdrop ("Oh noes, vampires want to harvest new kids!" "Oh noes, my teacher is a praying mantis who wants to eat me!" "Oh noes, because nobody pays attention to me I’ve become and invisible and it’s made me a homicidal maniac!") that would force her to shuck her valley girl ways and deal with problems head-on as The Slayer.
Lincecum’s debut vs. the Phillies showed us all his potential. The power fastball, the killer breaking stuff… Giants fans, like Buffy viewers, had reasons for optimism. You knew he was something.
But the pilot was far from perfect and had a lot of clunky moments, just like Lincecum’s debut.
Relevant episode(s): When She Was Bad (Season Premiere), Surprise & Innocence, Passion, Becoming
Relevant starts(s): First Career Shutout 9/13 at San Diego
Both the show and the pitcher took the next step in their second season and transformed into how they would be known to the masses whenever people thought of them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer went from being a little campy to played totally straight and this is quickly evidenced in the season premiere where the events of the season one finale are the starting point but it’s clear the characters, the tone, and even the writing have matured. The show is darker, embracing its gothic, supernatural backbone completely while also allowing some sexiness, some mystery and even its clever sense of humor to shine through at the same time.
Lincecum’s second season – like Buffy, his first "full season" – defined him just as completely. 265 strikeouts (in 227 innings), the best mark in San Francisco Giants history. The first of two Cy Young Awards. Like the series, he had "arrived".
His April stats – 36.1 innings pitched, 40K / 15 BB, 1.73 ERA, ONE home run allowed – compare favorably to the first big story arc Buffy the Vampire Slayer had ever pursued: Buffy loses her virginity.
But where Lincecum’s transformation from a boy into a pitcher helped the Giants win baseball games and build his own confidence, Buffy’s journey from girl to woman was complicated by a curse. It seems her boyfriend – a vampire – was cursed with a soul. But his moment of pure happiness (having sex/making love to Buffy) negated the curse and removed his soul, turning him into a homicidal maniac.
This character turn mirrored a common high school experience of the boyfriend becoming an asshole after he has sex with the girl. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was able to play the supernatural/action and teen angst/melodrama angles simultaneously and the series quickly became a master class in writing theme as plot. It was the first "big moment" that helped put the show on the map, not just for writers, but for the mainstream, too.
By the end of its second season, the show had killed a major character and forced Buffy to make an impossible choice in the season finale: save her evil ex-boyfriend who had just regained his soul or kill him to save the world. The show had reached a point of no return. It could no longer be a quaint little high school show with supernatural elements.
Tim Lincecum’s pitching became a master class in pitching. His first career shutout was such a dominant performance so late in the season it proved that he was not a flash in the pan and it was likely the start that clinched the Cy Young for him.
That Cy Young not only put Lincecum permanently on the MLB media radar, it put the Giants scouting and player development back on the map. Here was a clear prospect success story as they looked to rebuild the organization after the Bonds-Kent-Schmidt years. He and the Giants had reached a point of no return: the farm was now expected to produce and Tim Lincecum was to become the face of the franchise.
Relevant episode(s): Doppelgangland, Earshot, The Prom, Graduation Day
Relevant starts(s): June 29 at St. Louis
This season was all about expanding "the world" and increasing the challenge to their dominance. Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduced a competing slayer who was edgier than Buffy. The big arc of the season was about Buffy embracing who she truly is and being recognized for her acts of valor. Indeed, her classmates recognize her at the prom as "Class Protector" and band with her to fight off the season’s "Big Bad" (the overarching villain of the season) at their high school graduation ceremony.
Tim Lincecum’s "Big Bad" was Adam Wainwright and the expectations placed upon him after his 2008 season. Like the TV show, Lincecum followed up a spectacular 2008 season (7.5 WAR) with an even better one (8.0 WAR) in 2009. Lincecum embraced his ace/face of the franchise status and MLB showed him off as being one of its biggest stars, the most prominent example being his selection as All-Star Game starting pitcher for the National League.
Buffy’s third season ended on a clear note that Buffy Summers was no longer a child, she was fully an adult. Her high school was destroyed, college loomed, and she had reached a point in her relationship with her first love, Angel, where she could let him go. This transition into total responsibility and adulthood raised the stakes yet again for the character and the series.
Tim Lincecum was cited for marijuana possession shortly before he received his second Cy Young award. As the face of a franchise and the entire league, the scrutiny and criticism he received was a clear signal that people expected a lot from him, that he too had transitioned from The Freak to a symbol.
Relevant episode(s): Living Conditions, Hush, This Year’s Girl/Who Are You, Superstar, Restless
Relevant starts(s): NLDS, Game 1, all August starts
Buffy goes to college and deals with soul-sucking roommates and a military force designed to fight, capture, and study the supernatural beings she was chosen to slay. Of course, the series had one of its biggest moments of triumph in the Emmy-nominated and widely-acclaimed episode "Hush". The hook of that episode was an entire episode without any talking. That episode is considered a modern classic for the entire television medium.
But the fourth season had some slumps and the military force – the Initiative – was a bit of a letdown and, so, while the season certainly had its share of highs it also had some big lows for the first time in series history.
I don’t know if I need to go into detail about NLDS Game 1 vs. Atlanta. Tim Lincecum was otherworldly. He pitched like The Chosen One. He dominated, humiliated, exsanguinated the Braves and it was a sight to behold.
But Lincecum also had a wretched August that called into question whether he could ever again be even a decent pitcher. He toyed with his mechanics, his control was a mess… it was a career low point, an unmitigated disaster a la The Initiative.
And yet it ended on the highest of highs (marijuana joke!) with the World Championship. It was a setup for something great.
Buffy’s fourth season also ended on a high note with a hint of something transformative coming the following season…
Relevant episode(s): Buffy vs. Dracula, Fool for Love, The Body, The Gift
What we get, however, is something slightly less than transformative. In fact, it’s much more annoying: Buffy gets a sister. But the appearance of this new character helped set Buffy on the path to her destiny.
Turns out some magical monks needed to hide a trans-dimensional key from a deity trying to conquer our reality and did so by making the key human. But they knew they wouldn’t be able to protect this human key for very long so they made the human out of the Slayer so that she would naturally do anything to protect it.
Buffy learns that "death is her gift" and she thinks that’s because she’s the Slayer. It’s her job to rain down permanent death on supernatural beings. But the collateral damage of her adventures involves her personal relationships. Her friendships, lovers, and family all suffer because of what she is.
In the episode "The Body", Buffy suffers the ultimate loss: her mother dies. But it’s not the result of some demon or vampire, she has an aneurysm. Buffy is powerless to fix this natural act and she is powerless to stop the weight of the world that has been thrust upon her.
The season ends with Buffy making the ultimate sacrifice: her own death is her gift to the world.
Tim Lincecum followed up a World Series season with the worst of his professional career since his debut season (4.4 WAR). He had the dreaded "losing record" for the first time in his life (13-14). His fastball lost velocity. His strikeout rate declined, walk rate increased. He remained The Chosen One but now it was clear that the weight of the team on his shoulder was starting to beat him down. With no offense to support him, it almost didn’t matter how he performed.
Still, his career "death" was his gift to the Giants. Their desperate need for offense cajoled them into making two trades for offense, locking up Pablo Sandoval through his arbitration years, and committing to a roster filled with youthful upside in players who could actually hit a little. Though the Giants recognized pitching as their "gold standard", they knew it wouldn’t hold its value without run support.
Perhaps the decline of Tim Lincecum was the jolt that saved the Giants world.
Relevant episode(s): Bargaining, Tabula Rasa
Relevant starts(s): 4/6 at AZ
Buffy’s death ended the series’ run on The WB Network. For the series’ sixth season it moved to UPN, another now-defunct network (remember The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer?). Right away the series had to deal with resurrecting its lead character.
But the season premiere was really just a big loud mess. Series creator Joss Whedon’s attention was divided between three separate shows: Buffy, Angel, and Firefly (this *is* a Firefly reference) and it was obvious that Buffy got the short end of that attention span.
Buffy’s friends decided to fight monsters as a team, but they weren’t very good at it so they utilized a Buffybot, a sex robot built by a "villain" from a previous season but repurposed by the friends to stand-in for her and essentially make demons think twice about setting foot in their town. Obviously, the gambit didn’t work and the Buffybot was exposed as a fraud. This opened the floodgates for all sorts of demons, but specifically a demonic biker gang. The town becomes overrun with lawlessness so, Buffy’s friends decide to use a spell to bring her back from the dead.
It’s a messy beginning but at least it brings back the lead character and sort of sets up some interesting possibilities for the rest of the season ("Is this the same Buffy as before?").
Tim Lincecum’s first start certainly raised that last question. Is this the same Tim as before? What can we expect going forward? TVcompnalysis © tells us that Tim’s shaky first start compares favorably to Buffy’s shaky season premiere.
We can expect a lot of darkness and a lot of series low points. A lot of "out of character" moments. He’s already ditched his slider. Will that be like Giles’ departure?
But season six also had "Once More With Feeling", meaning we could be in store for a transcendent performance or stretch of starts from Lincecum.
Ultimately, season six was a season of transition and maturity. Tim Lincecum, then, projects to go from The Chosen One/The Freak to just a mature pitcher who sometimes struggles to control his game.
Going forward, season seven was a wrap-up for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and brought back a lot of familiar faces but also ended on a high note. In the end, Buffy gave her power to all potential slayers out there. This means that Tim Lincecum will either give Bumgarner his changeup or else he will grant the Giants one more solid season and end on a high note.
The entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer series appears to be available to stream for free. Check it out! In the comments, feel free to add more examples for this TVcompnalysis ©. Also, feel free to rank the seasons of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tim Lincecum’s career (exclude 6 from his, obviously). My lists:
Buffy: 5, 2, 3, 7, 4, 6, 1
Timmy: 4, 3, 2, 1, 5