The last we saw of Tim Lincecum was in 2016, when the two-time Cy Young winner signed with the Los Angeles Angels in May following a showcase tryout, made nine starts and was the worst pitcher in the league. He pitched 38 innings, allowed 68 hits, including 11 home runs, posted a 9.16 ERA, and his 2.374 WHIP was the highest for a pitcher with at least 30 innings since 1997.
Lincecum had another showcase session on Feb. 15 at the Driveline Baseball facility in Kent, Washington, outside of Seattle, where he threw in front of scouts from 15 to 20 teams. Reports from the session indicated Lincecum threw about 25 pitches exclusively from the windup and hit 93 mph while averaging between 90-92. He showed no signs of the hip injury that bothered him at the end of his Giants career and required season-ending surgery in 2015. In December, Rockies pitcher Adam Ottavino posted a photo on Instagram of a ripped Lincecum working out in a sleeveless shirt.
So what do we know? Lincecum is in great shape. He can maybe hit 93 mph throwing at max effort at an indoor baseball facility. He’s well-rested after not pitching in 2017 and is now more than two years removed from the surgery. He obviously knows how to pitch, although precision control was never his forte.
This is obviously a complete roll of the dice by the Rangers, a minimal investment with the hope you hit the lottery. The most likely scenario would see Lincecum pitch out of the bullpen, where he would be a better bet to hold his velocity over short stints. With the Angels, his fastball averaged just 87.7 mph. One writer suggested that with the Rangers’ closer job wide-open, Lincecum even has a chance to win that role.
Call me skeptical.
First off, Lincecum hasn’t really been good since 2011, the last time he posted a sub-4.00 ERA. His year-by-year WAR totals since:
Remember, Lincecum was pitching in one of the best pitchers’ parks in the majors and still couldn’t keep his ERA below the league average. When the Giants won World Series titles in 2012 and 2014, it’s notable that Lincecum made just one playoff start over those two postseasons (and pitched just one game in relief the entire 2014 run).
We’re supposed to believe that seven years after his last good season, Lincecum will rediscover stuff good enough to make him a closer? It’s not an impossible idea, but he has a lot to prove before the Rangers even remotely consider him for that job. Don’t you want to see some results before you trust him to get out Mike Trout with a one-run lead in the ninth inning?
It’s also unlikely the Rangers double down on a wild card like Lincecum as their Opening Day closer, given what happened last season. Sam Dyson nearly torpedoed Texas’ season in April when he blew all three of his save chances and was 0-4 with a 12.66 ERA through May 7. Alex Claudio isn’t a sexy alternative, but at least you know what you’re getting with him.
Is there a precedent for a Lincecum comeback? Bartolo Colon made just 47 starts from 2006 through 2010 (missing all of 2010) with a 5.18 ERA and certainly appeared finished before resurfacing with the Yankees in 2011. After his comeback he made two All-Star Games and won 87 games. Guess what? Colon is in Rangers camp as a non-roster invite.
Hey, I hope it works out. Lincecum is from the same Seattle suburbs I grew up in and was obviously a wonder to watch at his peak. That peak was a long time ago, however. Certainly the Rangers saw something to give him a guaranteed contract, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if Lincecum ends up being a major contributor in Texas.