Tim Lincecum will pitch in a showcase tomorrow, which sounds like he’ll be on a mound behind a curtain on the “Price Is Right” set. But no, he’ll be in Arizona, demonstrating the state of his arm to about 20 MLB teams, including the Giants and A’s.
Maybe Lincecum will show that the hip surgery he had last September was a miracle cure, and that he’s ready to resume a once-electric career. Or maybe he’s lost it for good, and will never throw another inning in the bigs.
Assuming for a moment it’s the latter, let’s go ahead and ask the question: Is Tim Lincecum a Baseball Hall of Famer?
My guess is that here in the Bay Area, the answer from writers and fans alike is a quick “yep.” And that the less fortunate people living everywhere else will reply “ehhhh…” Let’s take a look.
THE CASE FOR TIM LINCECUM
Those who watched him regularly in 2008 and 2009 will tell you that Timmy was like no pitcher they’ve ever seen. He was a meteor – a slight, long-haired meteor riding a skateboard and wearing an Army jacket with a sewn-on hemp-leaf patch.
Lincecum in 2008-09 was, beyond doubt, the best pitcher in baseball. He won the NL Cy Young Award both years, and the 2008 voting wasn’t close. (He received 23 of 32 first-place votes.) The kid was a phenomenon. And after the Cy Young seasons, he had two more very good campaigns – All-Star both years, Cy Young top-10 both years. Lincecum struck out 977 batters over four seasons, despite weighing 114 pounds. His Game 1 start against the Braves in the 2010 NLDS was one of the great postseason performances in baseball history: 9 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 14 strikeouts, 1 walk. Timmy!
After that is where it got tricky. Lincecum was never a reliable starter beyond 2011. But Giants fans will always adore him for coming out of the bullpen effectively, and even starting a game, in the 2012 postseason. Against the Tigers in the World Series that year he threw 4 2/3 innings and allowed one baserunner.
THE CASE AGAINST TIM LINCECUM
Baseball-reference.com, where I always turn for numbers, has a handy feature it calls the Similarity Score. It weighs a player’s career numbers in multiple categories and tells you whom that player most resembles, at least on paper. Lincecum had no comparison stylistically. His closest statistical comparisons are (1) Alex Fernandez, (2) Yovani Gallardo and (3) Steve Blass.
I’m gonna just let that sink in a minute.
There simply isn’t anyone with lifetime stats anywhere near Lincecum’s who is in the Hall of Fame. He won 108 games. That’s the same as Carl Pavano, one less than Mark Portugal and three fewer than Pete Harnisch. OK then. Actually, Lincecum’s win total does resemble some Hall of Famers’ – the relievers. Rollie Fingers won 114 games. Rich Gossage won 124.
How about earned run average? Lincecum’s stands at 3.61. That’s pretty solid for his era. In fact, it’s better than the ERA of four Hall of Famers – Jesse Haines (3.64), Ted Lyons (3.67), Hank O’Day (3.74) and Red Ruffing (3.80). None of the four played after 1947, though, making comparison tricky.
Those numbers too old-school for you? Lincecum’s career WAR for Pitchers is 22.9. That’s tied with Ed Whitson, Sparky Lyle and Jesse Orosco. For comparison, Bert Blyleven’s is 96.5. Matt Cain’s is 31.2. Lincecum’s pitching WAR is lower than that of any Hall of Fame hurler – unless you count Babe Ruth. His was 20.6 before he turned his attention to merrily trotting around the bases on spindly legs.
If baseball writers argue in favor of Tim Lincecum in a few years, they are likely to invoke Sandy Koufax. The great Dodgers lefty famously struggled through six years of mediocrity, had two very good turn-the-corner seasons in 1961-62, then reeled off four consecutive seasons like we really haven’t seen since.
Koufax’s run of excellence was not extensive. But four great seasons and two very good seasons are not the same as two great seasons and two good seasons.
Another way to look at it: Lincecum’s fourth-best win total is 13 games. His fourth-best ERA is 3.43. Are these Hall of Fame numbers? Seems like a hard sell. His only chance is that the voters close their eyes to the numbers before them and picture the guy who turned the National League on its ear in 2008.
On the other hand, I can think of three guys who would argue vehemently that Lincecum belongs in Cooperstown. They’re named Alex Fernandez, Yovani Gallardo and Steve Blass.