The San Francisco Giants have employed 360 pitchers since moving west. Only 39 of them stayed with the team as long as Jonathan Sanchez did.
Wait, that's not the factoid I wanted to use. I was going for something about Cy Youngs and championships. Whatever, it's ruined now. Point is, Tim Lincecum has had more success in a Giants uniform than just about any other pitcher who ever lived. In 40 years, he'll still be a big deal. He'll waddle out to the mound to throw out the first pitch, and the crowd will go nuts. He'll sign balls at a memorabilia store for 150 space bucks a pop, and the line will wrap around the block. There will still be promotional giveaways with his face on it.
So his success isn't just an on-field, wins-and-losses thing. It's also a comfort thing for us. The world makes more sense when Tim Lincecum is good, and sometimes I worry that makes us see the things we want to see with him. When the fastball's hopping in the first, that's a good sign, good sign. When he gets out of a jam with runners on, that's a good sign, good sign. Are we all just licking the lollipop of cognitive bias? You should never take candy from cognitive bias. What are you, three?
The goal today, then, is to look at some tangible evidence that Lincecum still has a chance to be, if not the Cy Young winner from 2009, the excellent pitcher from 2011. Our evidence will consist of one at-bat. You can cherry-pick and isolate one at-bat for just about any pitcher -- Denny Bautista, say -- and make it look like he's the best pitcher on the planet, so don't take this too seriously. But if you want to know why I personally hold out hope for Tim Lincecum in 2013, here you go.
Mark Kotsay was the third batter of the game, which is a clause that feels as relevant as Nintendo 64s and ska music, but it actually happened. Lincecum started him off with a perfectly placed curve -- it wasn't a get-it-in curve that would get pummeled if the hitter was expecting it.
Also, credit where credit is due: Hector Sanchez did a very, very nice job on that pitch.
Look at that velocity! WAIT, IT'S SPRING, AND YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LOOK AT VELOCITY. But look at that velocity! WAIT, IT'S SPRING, AND YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO LOOK AT VELOCITY. Still, though, that velocity. It's the kind of velocity that can make up for the location mistakes that plagued Lincecum last year.
Up a bit, but not directly over the plate. Again, the kind of velocity that can make up for a little mistake. Kotsay was late.
whoa easy there big fella
The fastball was live enough to make Sanchez think that a Marvin Benard special was the way to go. And even though Lincecum missed, he missed up, which is what you want to do with a 1-2 count. While Lincecum missed with this pitch, it set up ...
That's the pitch that won Cy Youngs. What could Kotsay do? That's as close as baseball can get to the DeAndre Jordan dunk. Kotsay had to worry about the high fastball, and he had to worry about the curve he saw on the first pitch. He probably had the changeup on the mind, too, but all he could do was hope that Lincecum left it up. Instead, it was the perfect change.
Again, this doesn't mean that Lincecum's safe and that 2012 will be a curious anomaly for the rest of Lincecum's career. It's just an at-bat, in the spring, against a hitter who was teammates with Harmon Killebrew.
But know that it isn't just your broken brain sending you glimmers of hope about Lincecum this year. He's showing flashes, and we're supposed to know by now that results in the spring aren't really the important part. For at least one at-bat in his last outing, Tim Lincecum was on loan from 2009. It was a welcome sight.