Back before the 2009 season started, I got an e-mail from the fellow who helped Andres Torres retool his swing. The gist of the e-mail: Watch out for Andres Torres. He's gonna be good. A similar e-mail today would read, "Cole Gillespie is going to melt your face" or "Tony Abreu: future All-Star." So I filed it away and forgot about it … until Torres became Carlos Beltran with more speed and better defense in 2010.
So when a get an e-mail from Mr. O'Leary, I pay just a bit more attention now. And he sent one directing me to his evaluations on Tim Lincecum's mechanics. The post isn't new, but, well, neither are Lincecum's mechanics. And in the evaluation, O'Leary suggests that Lincecum pitches with an "Inverted L", and when you click on the link to find out what the hell an "Inverted L" is, you're treated with a horror show of pitchers who have lost their velocity or gotten hurt. Oh.
But while it's undeniable that Lincecum isn't the same pitcher he used to be, he can also do some boss things on a baseball field. In the best game of Lincecum's career, he averaged 91 and cracked 92 just a couple times. Here's what he did to Yoenis Cespedes in the first inning of Thursday's game:
He can still pitch. Mostly. When his command is on. Which is occasionally. Kind of. But he walks about every fourth batter, and he leaves one over the plate for every other batter. Sometimes he gets away with that permutation. He didn't get away with it often last year.
In a way, Lincecum pitching so well in a relief role for the playoffs was just about the worst thing that could have happened for fans. It raised expectations, perhaps unreasonably. For a few innings at a time, the old Timmy was back. The new Timmy was kind of a jerk. The old Timmy pushed him down a well. So it was easy to think the old Timmy was back. He just went out for a pack of cigarettes, but I knew he'd come back, I told you he'd come back, you wouldn't believe me, but I just knew it, oh, old Timmy, we have so much to tell you.
In another, more important, way, Lincecum pitching so well in the playoffs was completely awesome.
So here we are, just a few hours away from his season debut. You won't know anything based on this first game. You won't know anything based on his second game. By his sixth or seventh game, you'll kind of have an idea, but not really. When the first half is over, you'll think you know, but you won't. And when the season is over, and he's looking for scores and scores of millions, if not hundreds of them, no one will know a damned thing.
Welcome to the rest of your life! Still, we're completionists around here, and there's no sense in doing a series of projections if there isn't one for Tim Lincecum. Let's look at what the punch cards and projection systems are saying:
Steamer: 179 IP, 3.79 ERA
Bill James: 197 IP, 3.47 ERA
Oliver: 202 IP, 3.52 ERA
ZiPS: 188 IP, 3.67 ERA
All reasonable. All attainable. All seemingly best-case scenarios right now. I'd pay cash money for any one of those. The Giants won the World Series without Lincecum as a starter this time, which is still kind of stunning. Imagine if he's, like, good. I don't think anyone is looking for great, even though it's not like the stuff he featured in that NLDS game is all that different from what he can do now.
But good. Good's okay. Good would be good. Not terrible would be an improvement, actually. There is precedent. The only other starting pitcher in AT&T Park history to qualify for the ERA title and finish with a higher ERA was Livan Hernandez in 2001. The next season he was better, and the Giants went to the World Series. DON'T LOOK UP WHAT HERNANDEZ DID THERE. Just note that he wasn't as awful the following season. Also, Hernandez is just about the worst possible comp for Lincecum, good god, what am I ...
Lincecum's going to be great unless he's awful unless he's just okay. So like all weenies, we'll split the difference and go with 'okay.'
Wait, no, screw that ...
/takes shot of water drained from parade snow globe
/starts seeing 50-foot-tall Matt Hollidays
/stands on roof in underwear, waving Darren Lewis-model bat at winged Latoses