The goose egg was in the hit column long enough to get excited. Sure, he had given up a couple of walks, but Timmy had his stuff working. Whether it was his protein-rich In-N-Out special, extra conditioning, or the slider he added to baffle even former battery-mate Bengie Molina in the World Series, Tim Lincecum has officially and emphatically returned to form in 2011.
He didn’t no-hit the Rockies and didn’t even record a shutout. When you face the hottest team in baseball, giving up a run and striking out 10 speaks for itself. Even after CarGo laced his hit to right field, I was ready to ask: Is Tim Lincecum already one of the greatest pitchers of all time?
So far, he counts:
- 2 Cy Young Awards
- 1 World Series title
- A strong postseason record: 4-1, 2.43 ERA, .92 WHIP, 43 SO, 9BB
- Tied with Christy Mathewson for franchise record most games with 10 SO (28)
- 7 career complete games, 4 shutouts, 939 SO
Last night he located his fastball well and paired it with his devastating changeup, garnering 7 of his 10 strikeouts at 85-86 mph (an ungodly speed difference from his heater). He needs 61 strikeouts in his next seven appearances to surpass Kerry Wood as the fastest pitcher to reach 1000 strikeouts in his career. He is also on pace to match his season high in strikeouts, which would give him four 200 strikeout season in a row–Nolan Ryan had a stretch of five 200K seasons twice in his career.
For those of you already shaking your head, this post is rhetorical; I am definitely coming off the Rocky Mountain high of seeing Lincecum at the top of his game again. For many of you, Lincecum does not rank with the likes of Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, or Roger Clemens. He does not have as many complete games, has not pitched a no hitter or perfect game, and does not have the length of career to enter this discussion yet.
But for the sake of argument…
In terms of dominance, we could use Bill James’ Game Score to see how he matches up to some of the greats. In his 4+ seasons, Lincecum has recorded 2 games with a Game Score of 90 or better (the higher the number, the better the game pitched). His high of 96 came in NLDS Game 1 against the Braves where he struck out 14. It actually bests Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the Phillies-Reds NLDS, because the metric values strikeouts in addition to outs. Kerry Wood also holds the record for highest game score at 105, walking only 2 Astros and striking out 20 in 1998.
There are a couple of reasons Tim does not have more 90+ game scores on his resume. His control, which has varied over his career, causes him to throw more pitches than necessary to record outs (he threw the most of any pitchers last year). Naturally he sees less innings as a result and Bruce Bochy, not being Dusty Baker, knows how to rest his young talent. Regardless of control, the Giants have little reason to over-extend any of their starters: the 2010 Giants bullpen ranked second in the majors in ERA and saved the most games of any ‘pen in the majors. Even with improved control this year, Tim may find himself out of the game after 7 innings, if only to keep him fresh down the stretch. Additionally, the overall strategy of starting pitching has changed; pitch count, specialty relievers, and closers mean that the complete game does not come into play as frequently. It is still one of the most impressive feats in sports, but definitely a rarity and one that should not be counted against a pitcher.
One of Game Score’s weaknesses is valuing total innings pitched rather than accurately measuring the quality of those innings. In order to do so, we certainly can’t use “quality starts,” since the criticisms of that statistic are well-documented (in short, a quality start at its worst would mean a 4.50 ERA…hardly “quality”).
I stumbled upon this article about “high quality starts.” It measures 7 IP instead of 6 IP, and 2 R (earned or not) or less rather than 3 ER or less. Just for fun, I looked at Tim’s HQS compared to others I’ve mentioned (Halladay, Clemens, Ryan, Johnson). Lincecum has a HQS at a rate of .47 starts. The rest? Halladay, .40, Clemens, .44, Johnson, .39, Ryan, .38. Tim’s elevated rate is no doubt a feature of small sample size. Halladay has 9 extra seasons on Lincecum’s, 4 1/2, for example. However, we can assume from this metric that Lincecum has the stuff right now to be in the company of some of the greatest pitchers in the last 50 years. Consistency and health will determine where he ends up on the list.
And for my money, there is no cooler looking delivery than this:
Batter already swinging (not shown)
I hear people saying they’re tired of Brian Wilson’s antics. I am certainly not one of them. For everything he does that seems crazy, he does something for a good cause (with Cody Ross and Lou Seal)…