What do we make of Tim Lincecum? At just 29 years old, Lincecum has two Cy Young awards, four All-Star appearances, and two World Series wins. If I left it at that, Lincecum would seem like an obvious top 20 starting pitcher, but we all know there is more to his story. Lincecum followed up a disastrous 2012 season with a subpar 2013 and that has left potential fantasy baseball owners wondering which Lincecum we should expect in 2014 — the guy who tallied at least 220 strikeouts in four straight seasons between 2008-2011, or the guy who posted a 4.76 ERA over the last two seasons.
My money is on the bounce back.
Many people believe that the San Francisco Giants drastically overpaid by extending Lincecum’s contract by an additional two years and $35 million, but that’s largely because the general public still judges pitchers almost entirely by their ERA while that’s decreasingly becoming the case in MLB front offices. Recently, we’ve seen more and more pitchers (for example, Anibal Sanchez and Zack Greinke) sign lucrative, multi-year contracts with sub-par ERAs but strong peripheral stats. Clubs have quickly figured out that a tremendous amount of value can be found in signing a starting pitcher who has a better xFIP than ERA.
In Lincecum’s case, his peripheral numbers suggest that he’s still a much better pitcher than his recent ERA would indicate. Lincecum posted a career low 8.79 strikeout per nine rate, but his swinging strikeout rate, contact rate and first pitch strike percentage were all at or better than his career averages. Lincecum has always been a strikeout/ground ball pitcher and his strikeout and ground ball rates are still well above average.
The one thing that has plagued Big Time Timmy Jim these past two seasons has been the home run and an inability to strand runners on base. Prior to 2012, Lincecum’s highest home-run-to-fly-ball rate was 9.9 percent in 2010. In 2012 though, Lincecum had a 14.6 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate and in 2013 it dropped, but only to 12.1 percent. If Lincecum can limit the home runs and strand runners like he used to (limiting home runs would have a direct impact on his ability to strand more base runners), then his peripheral numbers suggest he should be in line for a nice rebound in 2014.
I have Lincecum projected to record 12 wins, a 3.72 ERA, 198 strikeouts and a 1.31 WHIP. I have him ranked as my 35th starting pitcher (ahead of Jon Lester, Jered Weaver and Johnny Cueto), and there’s a strong chance way more than 35 starters will go ahead of him in your draft, giving you the opportunity to gain a tremendous amount of value from a two-time Cy Young award winner who’s still south of 30.