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The Tim Lincecum experiment is the most depressing story in baseball

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We spent the last 12 months wishing for the best for Tim Lincecum. Our wish was not granted.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure exactly when I started hoping the Giants would sign Tim Lincecum. Maybe it was when Jake Peavy was lit up by the Mets, or maybe it was when he couldn’t get out of the second inning against the Cubs. Maybe it was when Matt Cain got hurt, with the Giants resorting to Albert Suarez, a spring afterthought. But I was on board. My exact words might have been, "Can’t hurt!"

Those words were not accurate. Lincecum is officially the saddest story in baseball right now. After allowing one run in six innings for his first start, Lincecum has thrown 24 innings over six starts, allowing 50 hits, nine home runs, and 30 runs. That’s not a typo — more than two hits per inning and about a home run every other inning since his first start. Also, his average velocity in his last start was one of the lowest of his career.

Angels fans are dead inside after this season anyway, so I can’t imagine they’re seething about this development. They’re just as sad, but for different reasons. Imagine, though, that the Giants listened to my dumb inner monologue and echoed the can’t-hurt sentiment. Considering that the GIants are suddenly unable to win the games started by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, I’m not sure if swapping Peavy for Lincecum would have made a substantial change to the Giants’ won-loss record. But this would have been about more than wins and losses.

Specifically, this would have meant the Giants’ rotation would have featured a mightily struggling Matt Cain and a mightily struggling Tim Lincecum. That is, two of the pitchers who were responsible for the post-Bonds renaissance, who contributed to so much of the Giants’ lore and success, on a personal and team level, would have been two of the worst active starting pitchers in baseball. And we would have had to watch it 40 percent of the time.

The lesson? Not sure if there is one, other than "maybe don’t trust the pitcher who hasn’t been good for several years, even if nostalgia blinds you." But there might be a corollary to that, which is to avoid doubling down on the risk of nostalgia-based failures. What’s happening to Cain is sad enough. The Giants didn’t need to add another legacy longshot.

I guess this is a combination apology/rubbernecking post, then. That could have been us, and I’m sorry for getting excited about an unlikely scenario.

I would suggest that it would be a valuable learning lesson down the road. Like, in 15 years, the Giants are going to say something like, "Maybe we should bring Brandon Crawford back to play first base" and my first instinct will be, "Brandon Crawford! I love that man!", only to think of the Lincecum experiment and shake it off. Except I don’t know how long this lesson will last. Certainly until this offseason, when Lincecum is looking for a non-roster invitation to someone’s camp, but I’m not sure in five or 10 years, with different players in different situations, that I won’t be right back on that nostalgia train.

The equation goes something like this: A player with a 20-percent chance at 500 nostalgia points is worth 100 expected entertainment points, whereas a random free agent with a 60 percent chance at 150 entertainment points is worth just 90 expected entertainment points. That’s because every point of entertainment given by an old franchise hero is worth five times what it would be from a rando like Jeff Samardzija.

I checked with FanGraphs, and these are real statistics that I didn’t just spend five seconds on.

The problem is that Lincecum never had a 20-percent chance at anything. That seems pretty obvious now. Nostalgia is a helluva drug, and my head wasn’t clear.

Lincecum will go to the bullpen soon, so watch out if the transition goes well. He’ll be a free agent and the Giants will be looking for relievers, and you’ll think, "Saaaaaaaay, what if?" That’s why this post exists — it’s a reminder that the nostalgia is rarely going to be worth it, and if you’re adding up expected entertainment points and nostalgia points, you also have to multiply by sadness points. And there would have been nothing sadder than watching Lincecum give up home run after home run after home run.

Link back to this post in the offseason. Link back to it in five years, when I’m rambling about Sergio Romo’s resurgence. Link back to it in 15 years, when I’m reminding everyone that Buster Posey was a closer in college, and that it can’t hurt to bring him into camp one last time. Because the Giants could have signed Tim Lincecum this year. Instead, we can wince from afar, and remember the good times more than the bad: