Just when the baseball world was ready to pronounce Tim Lincecum as being done as an elite starter, the Freak reared his head once more.
Perhaps it’s because the 29-year-old realized that free agency is looming in just a few short months? It’s enough of an enigma to perhaps get the San Francisco Giants (and their fan base) all confused about their former ace — even if it’s pretty likely that they’re out of the Lincecum long-term contract market when the time comes.
That’s not to say that another team won’t be tempted though; and to be fair, they have every good reason to be right now.
After doing just about everything he can over the last season to make his looming free agency a potentially very unpleasant experience, Lincecum has brought his value back — not to the point where he won back-to-back Cy Young awards, of course, but to a point that seemed like a stretch just a couple of months ago: as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter who could earn a multi-year contract at an eight-figure sum per year.
A no-hitter will go a long way to doing that, of course, even if he followed it up with a 3.2-inning, eight-run, three-homer implosion (he did, after all, need a whopping 148 pitches to get his historic no-no).
If you were to generously consider the lopsided turn against the Cincinnati Reds as an outlier, however, what you’ll get is pitcher that looks a whole lot like the pre-2012 Timmy. Including his seven-inning, one-run gem on Saturday, he’s thrown quality starts in four of his last five starts, having gone at least seven innings in all four … with double-digit strikeout totals in three of them.
Sure, he’s still carrying a 4.43/1.33 ERA/WHIP on the season, and the safe bet still says that a team won’t want to pay him the big bucks that he’s no doubt looking for — but what if?
What if this stretch of games show that Lincecum has shown that he can pitch at an elite level at reduced velocity? What if the last second and a half were outliers (he did maintain an excellent 9.19 K/9 last season)? What if he turns in a string of quality starts from here until the end of the season?
Free agency is no time for safe bets, and if the Freak can continue to demonstrate though the remainder of the season that he still has elite stuff, it’s likely that some team will pay up to find out what the mystery holds.