Tim Lincecum was the face of the San Francisco Giants‘ turnaround in the post-Barry Bonds era, fueling the organization toward its first World Series title since moving to the City by the Bay. The two-time Cy Young Award winner initially gained a reputation as an effectively wild flame-thrower with an ultra unique delivery, but hadn’t fully developed into a pitcher.
Lincecum can’t exclusively rely on his fastball at this point in his career. He needs to efficiently mix his pitches in order to keep hitters off balance. At 29 years old, Lincecum still hasn’t perfected his craft. He frequently struggles to gain command, evidenced by the fact that he’s thrown at least nine wild pitches in every season of his big league career.
Lincecum has led the league in that category twice, chucking 17 bad balls in 2008 and 2012, respectively. To compare, Lincecum was awarded the Cy Young title in 2008, but endured the worst season of his career in 2012. He seemingly began to hit his stride again last season, though, despite posting a losing record for the third-consecutive year.
The Giants are hopeful that Lincecum can reignite his career in 2014. That sentiment is plastered in ink. San Francisco potentially overpaid to retain Lincecum earlier this offseason, signing their former ace to a two-year, $35 million deal.
What should the Giants realistically expect from Lincecum this season, though? Lincecum is no longer a perennial All-Star. He’s arguably already surpassed his prime and likely won’t rekindle the type of success he enjoyed in the first few seasons of his career. But Lincecum remains a viable proponent of the Giants’ rotation.
He’s a fierce competitor who showcases a winning mindset. The Giants need Lincecum to perform at a high level in order to contend for their third championship in five seasons. According to FanGraphs.com, Lincecum will post a 12-11 record with a sub-4.00 ERA and 168 strikeouts in 2014. Those numbers aren’t exactly on level with what Lincecum is guaranteed to earn this season, but they’re certainly representative of steady improvement.
Advanced sabermetrics indicate that Lincecum actually performed better than his 2013 statistics reveal on the surface. The Giants played horrendous defense last season, ranking 13th in that category in the National League. Consistently poor defensive efforts negatively effected the Giants’ pitching staff.
Lincecum recorded a 3.56 expected fielder independent pitcher mark (xFIP) in 2013. This means the Giants’ defense virtually tacked on more than half a run on his ERA (4.17). If Lincecum is going to register considerably better numbers this season, the Giants need to play better defense behind him.
Lincecum figures to win more games in 2014 than he has in each of the past two seasons, regardless. The Giants are banking on it.