When the Giants signed Ryan Vogelsong, the assumption was that there would be a competition for the last spot in the rotation. Yusmeiro Petit's name was brought up, but it supposed to be a deathmatch between Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum. Considering that Vogelsong has had more success than Lincecum in recent years, it followed that the competition was likely to be a little one-sided.
Bruce Bochy, who is just about the only person with an opinion that matters about this stuff, never saw it that way. From Henry Schulman:
Manager Bruce Bochy all but named Tim Lincecum the fifth starter, with Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit going into spring training as relievers.
Petit was expected. He did the sous chef job so remarkably, they didn't want to screw things up and promote him. Using Vogelsong as some sort of ... alternate Petit? That's unexpected.
I think once a month, I'll slip this into an article, just to remind everyone that I'm not completely heartless and awful about Lincecum.:
- Tim Lincecum has been bad for three straight seasons, and every possible indicator, from velocity to strikeout rates, are trending in the wrong direction. If his name were Burt Sommerstack and he was an 89-mph righty with a wild streak, yet kept getting these chances, he would have been the least popular player on the team for a couple years running.
- Tim Lincecum, after he throws his final pitch as a Giant, will have been responsible for more good memories, more brilliant Giants moments, than almost any person to live before or after him. He's a gift, one of the best things to ever happen to Giants fans, and we should be forever grateful.
Because we're talking small-picture baseball stuff, we'll have to focus on the first bullet point. I'm not sure what the chances are that Lincecum will morph into a control-minded pitcher with a deceptive delivery. I don't have the scouting experience, don't get the kinetics behind what he's doing, don't recall any historical precedents that might make us all optimistic about Lincecum. Maybe the Giants do. It's lazy to appeal to authority, but considering what the Giants have done over the last few years, it's hard not to.
Still, this seems like the least mysterious conundrum the Giants should face this spring. Lincecum's velocity is hurting his ability to make hitters miss his off-speed stuff? Okay, try him in the bullpen, see if he can build on the 92/93 he often shows in the first inning of a start. The argument against is that he also struggles in those first innings, which would make him a lousy fireman, alright. But we also have evidence that he can be effective in the role. It's called the 2012 postseason, and Lincecum was brilliant. There isn't just a chance that Lincecum could hurt the team less in the bullpen; there's a chance he could thrive there.
Vogelsong in the bullpen, by contrast, seems a little redundant. The possible boost in velocity would help Vogelsong, too, but his value is more in innings consumed and general grinding. The idea of a pitcher who can spot start, mop up, and occasionally pitch high-leverage innings is great, but that's what Petit is there for. A second Petit is like having two Ehire Adrianzas on the roster. Just one will do.
All of the above can be ditched if Lincecum looks great in the spring, missing bats and hitting his spots. A fantastic spring would be the wheels, sideboards, skeins, and jockey box of the Tim Lincecum bandwagon, and I'd love to hop aboard. I would beg you to join me.
Starting spring training by basically announcing the competition is over? Odd. Very, very odd.
Of course, the Giants have had the better part of a decade to study Lincecum and how his neurons fire, and there might be a psychological benefit to having him pitch pressure-free in the spring. They, again, probably no what they're doing. But it's odd from here. Really quite odd. It's either Luke turning off his targeting computer, or Sir Bors not heeding the warnings about the rabbit. If you think those references couldn't get nerdier, note that I passed up several Doctor Who quips to get there.
Still, it's odd. Did I mention it's odd? Tim Lincecum, according to his manager, is probably winning the fifth-starter competition that hasn't started yet.
That seems odd.