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First Pitch 07/15/13: Lincecum's fate

No-hitters are coming in bunches, people. Be ready.

Denis Poroy

Hey there, baseball fans. Welcome back to First Pitch, where we're not taking four days off in a row again anytime soon! Here's some stuff about the last full day of baseball for almost a week.

One Quick Thing -- The Crystal Ball and Tim Lincecum

If you haven't heard, on Saturday night, Tim Lincecum threw the second no-hitter of the 2013 season, blanking the Padres in Diego. It took him 148 pitches, and while Lincecum struck out 13 Friars, he also racked up four walks, hit Jedd Gyorko, and threw a wild pitch. Nevertheless, it was a phenomenal pitching performance, and a signature feat for one of the most unique and interesting pitchers in baseball today.

To understand Tim Lincecum's future, we have to digest his past. Lincecum has had a career in three parts. First, he was a ruthless assassin of major-league hitters. After his partial-season 2007 debut year, he was essentially the best pitcher in baseball for two years running, racking up two NL Cy Young awards as well as 450+ innings of elite pitching in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 and 2011, Lincecum went from being 40% better than league average (approximately) to simply being closer to 20% better than league average. He was still an All-Star, but the strikeout rate dipped a little and the walks and homers became slightly more frequent. He still posted more than 200 innings of work, and still any team would want him anchoring a staff. But things were changing.

Then came 2012, which was bad. A 4.18 FIP gave way to a 5.18 ERA, and balls left the park with alacrity. Walks shot up. His strand rate dropped by something like 10%. Phrases like "he's done as a starter" and "WAT?" came up, and it appeared as if we could be seeing a total collapse from a once-revered pitcher. 2013 has brought us closer to the Lincecum of old -- flashes of brilliance, recovering peripherals -- but he's not quite back to his pre-2012 performance, even following those nine brilliant innings. His strand rate remains remarkably low. He's not quite "fixed."

So now what?

Well, pitchers who throw no-hitters usually have some difficulty in their next outing, as J.P. Breen has outlined at FanGraphs. So we should recognize that when or if Lincecum struggles in his post-ASG start, it's not a certain indicator that anything has really "changed" at all. It's an effect of the no-hitter itself, perhaps.

Lincecum almost has thrown the most pitches in a no-hitter in baseball history, just one fewer than Edwin Jackson threw in his 2010 no-no for Arizona. Does this mean that Lincecum's career will derail, somehow -- like Edwin Jackson's did prior to his no-hitter three seasons ago? Well, it probably doesn't, given that E-Jax has a pitching profile almost entirely identical to the one he had before his no-hitter. To wit, there's this image from BtBS writer and smart guy Blake Murphy.


That's basically the same guy before and after the no-hitter. Jackson threw his when he was 26, a few months before his 27th birthday. Lincecum toss his about a month after his 29th birthday. I'm not sure that's a huge age difference, but maybe it means something. Randy Johnson, who also tossed over 135 pitches during a no-hitter back in 1990, was about Jackson's age during his outing. Neither appears to have suffered anything that has jinxed their career.

So the best way to predict Tim Lincecum's future is probably the same way we would've before this tremendous, tremendous event. I'm not sure that this one great moment is more telling than any of the other information that we had before this game -- history is littered with players whose narrative wasn't defined by their no-hitter or perfect game -- and rather it was a great moment in time, but not a harbinger of rise or fall.

Maybe this was one of the last great Tim Lincecum starts. Maybe he's lost enough stuff to continue to be an average-or-slightly-better starter going forward. Maybe he's lost enough to require a move to the bullpen, or to the back of a rotation. Maybe he's capable of adjusting and continuing to succeed, to find a way not to strand runners again.

But I have a feeling that this no-hitter doesn't actually change anything, other than giving us a pretty special moment to look back on and highlight when we review Tim Lincecum's startling, special career.

The Smallest Sample Size -- Game Results for 07/14/13

Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Royals 4, Indians 6

A sixth-inning rally led by Asdrubal Cabrera (3-for-5 with a double, .245 WPA) and Jason Kipnis (2-for-2 with a double, a sac fly, and two walks, .164 WPA) led the Indians to victory over the Royals. Carlos Santana also added a double, two singles and a walk in four plate appearances -- and probably should have been named to the All-Star Game over opposing catcher Sal Perez. (Perez went 0-for-4 with a walk.)

The Cleveland bullpen rocked it after starter Ubaldo Jimenez was chased after four rough innings. Rich Hill got the win because he had a lower WPA than all Cleveland pitchers not named Ubaldo Jimenez because the "win" statistic has silly rules and is archaic because he pitched to two batters during an inning in which the team's offense happened to score a few runs. Baseball!

On the Kansas City side, not much of note happened. Starter (and another deserving non-All-Star) James Shields gave up three runs over five innings on seven hits, three walks, and four strikeouts. Tim Collins was the goat, melting down and giving up three runs while only retiring a single batter (-.377 WPA!). On offense, I guess Country Breakfast Billy Butler had the best showing, offering up a double and two singles in five plate appearances, but he failed to drive in or score any runs. David Lough and Lorenzo Cain both reached base twice and a stole a base, and both scored two runs each.

More on the Royals at: Royals Review More on the Indians at: Let's Go Tribe

Twins 10, Yankees 4

The Minnesota Twins, who are usually contractually obligated to lose to the Yankees, rode a solid Kyle Gibson performance and some strong offense to win the rubber match and swipe a series from the Bombers. I mean, I guess the story of this game is the two Yankee errors that led to five unearned runs, but I'd rather talk about the coming-out party for the Minnesota offense. Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer, snapping his most recent offensive skid! Brian Dozier hit a couple of doubles! Every Minnesota starter got at least one hit, and Justin Morneau led the team with three hits -- one of those being a double.

On the Bronx side of things, well, there was a big-time error by Eduardo Nunez, and a lesser one by Lyle Overbay. Chris Stewart passed a ball. Luis Cruz grounded into two double plays. And C.C. Sabathia didn't look sharp, relinquishing eight runs in four innings on eight hits. But Ichiro hit his sixth homer of the season, and Lyle Overbay reached first base four times in four plate appearances. Robinson Cano raised his seasonal slash line yet again, ending the day at .302/.386/.531.

Naturally, New York won the season series with Minnesota, 5-2. But this was a nice way to end things for Minny, nonetheless.

More on the Twins at: Twinkie Town More on the Yankees at: Pinstriped Bible

Rangers 0, Tigers 5

Justin Verlander, ostensibly annoyed at Bronson Arroyo and Tim Lincecum for stealing his no-hitter mojo, carried it hitless into the seventh inning against the Rangers on Sunday. JV ended up with seven innings of one-hit, three-walk ball, but with only three punchouts. While the game won't help his peripherals at all, it will suck 0.20 off of his season ERA, which isn't nothing. Victor Martinez (not dead yet!), Jhonny Peralta and Torii Hunter all went yard with solo homers, and any one of them could've been enough with the Tigers' ace going strong. And maybe it's time for a Tuiasosopo Watch -- the journeyman utility player is up to a 193 wRC+ in 103 plate appearances.

In a game like this, you obviously don't have too much to hang your hat on if you're a Rangers fan. Mitch Moreland gets a gold star for getting one of his team's two hits (a double off of Verlander) and walking once. That's about it. Rookie starter Martin Perez was not sharp (five and two thirds innings, three homers allowed, five runs allowed). Bad job, everybody.

More on the Rangers at: Lone Star Ball More on the Tigers at: Bless You Boys

Nationals 5, Marlins 2

Denard Span won this game for the Nationals in the 10th inning, logging the second of his two doubles to help start a three-run flood that would win Washington the game. Span went 3-for-5, Anthony Rendon had two doubles, including a game-tying hit in the seventh, and rookie starter Taylor Jordan pitched well -- going six innings while giving up two runs on eight hits and no walks with four Ks.

Surprisingly, the Marlins weren't awful in this one, despite running Henderson Alvarez out there as a starter. Alvarez gave up two runs in six and two-thirds, and even struck out three, which very well may be a career high*. Derek Dietrich, one of the most unlikely regulars in the big leagues this year, hit his ninth homer of the season, led his team's offense in WPA (.151), and has raised his seasonal wRC+ to a somewhat-respectable 92. Wild.

[ * - It's not. I'm just being cruel. His career high is seven. But seriously, that guy doesn't strike anyone out.]

More on the Nationals at: Federal Baseball More on the Marlins at: Fish Stripes

Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Blue Jays 4, Orioles 7

At this stage in the game, Chris Davis is basically one of those giant monster-fighting robots in the movie Pacific Rim. Go watch the trailer, or the movie, and imagine that every time a giant robot punches a monster, that's basically the equivalent of what Chris Davis is doing to opposing pitchers. Not that I'm trying to equate Josh Johnson with a kaiju, but well, if the shoe fits ...

At any rate, Davis hit his 37th homer of the season, which would make for a really great full season, but he did it in a little more than half of one, so he's the boss. He also doubled. Oh sure, Adam Jones hit a homer too, and Scott Feldman pitched another strong one (over seven innings, three runs, seven strikeouts, etc.) but by the time Davis's homer landed, the Jays were down by six and their spirits were crushed under the weight of his awesome.

On the Jays side, Josh Johnson had kind of a disaster start with seven runs given up over seven innings. Jose Reyes hit two singles and snagged a bonus base, and Maicer Izturis (surprise!) led his team in WPA (.057) by driving in three runs on two hits. But Chris Davis happened, so they lost.

More on the Blue Jays at: Bluebird Banter More on the Orioles at: Camden Chat

Reds 8, Braves 4

Shin-Soo Choo may be a bad defensive outfielder, but he's a bad man at the plate. The Reds' big offseason acquisition delighted fans and OBP hounds alike with another sterling offensive performance, raising that on-base percentage to .425 with a single, two walks, and a nice home run in the fifth off Julio Teheran. Jay Bruce actually had the better day by WPA (.200) as his homer came with a man on in the third, and put his team up by three, but hey -- it's all good from the Cincinnati perspective. Well, as long as you consider Tony Cingrani only lasting four innings (two runs, four walks, five strikeouts) good.

The Braves, missing their entire vaunted outfield after watching them sustain injuries this series, were still able to put up a few runs. Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons both hit late-game home runs, and Simmons actually reached base two other times and scored on a Zack Cozart error. Teheran, on the other hand, was not sharp, as he gave up five runs in five and one-third inning, which is a bummer but belies his very strong rookie season. Remember, he's still got a 3.35 ERA and 3.97 FIP this season.

More on the Reds at: Red Reporter More on the Braves at: Talking Chop

White Sox 3, Phillies 4

In a battle of "which team do sabermetricians hate more?" the Phillies won out over the White Sox in 11 innings, thanks to a John Mayberry Jr. walk-off single with the bases loaded. Mayberry's single was his only hit of the game, but it earned him a tidy .301 WPA as it happened in the best possible situation for the Phillies. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels was downright dangerous in his eight innings, giving up two runs on eight hits and no walks, but striking out seven in a solid performance. It would be Jonathan Papelbon, who's now up to four meltdowns on the season, who gave up the all-important third run to the Sox in the ninth inning.

Josh Phegley was the guy who drove in the third run to put the game into extras for the Sox. Phegley's double earlier in the game didn't plate anyone, but his single in the ninth off of Papelbon was huge and put the game into extras. And he had help from another lesser-known White Sock -- Blake Tekotte. Tekotte entered the game as a pinch-runner after a Dayan Viciedo single, stole second, and then motored home on Phegley's base hit. Alejandro De Aza had a nice performance for the Sox as well, hitting a double and a solo homer in the ninth.

More on the White Sox at: South Side Sox More on the Phillies at: The Good Phight

Mets 4, Pirates 2

The Mets go into their home-turf All-Star break on a good note, as they were able to salvage a game of the series against the Pirates thanks to a solid performance from Dillon Gee* and the Mets' bullpen. Gee threw six and two-thirds innings, and only struck out two, but he limited the Pirates to only one unearned run before turning the game over to the bullpen. Marlon Byrd (more on him tomorrow!) continued his solid hitting with a ground-rule double that started a strong first inning, and Eric Young scored twice on Byrd's double and a Daniel Murphy triple. Yes, Josh Satin reached base twice and yes, Josh Satin's OPS is stlil above 1.000.

[ * - It's more like Dealin' Gee, am I right, guys? Guys? Where are you going?]

Gerrit Cole continues to post solid-but-not-spectacular performances, this time going five innings and just 89 pitches to the tune of three runs. Cole walked two and struck out five, starting in place of All-Star Jeff Locke, who was a scratch.

More on the Mets at: Amazin' Avenue More on the Pirates at: Bucs Dugout

Astros 0, Rays 5

Chris Archer dominated the Astros on Sunday, throwing a complete game five-hitter and absolutely SHOVING the ball past the Houston Astros. By Game Score, Archer's 87-point outing is one of the 25 best pitching performances in baseball this season, so yeah, let's get hyperbolic on this one. Sure, it's not a no-hitter, but eight strikeouts and no walks in your first-ever complete game? Way to crush it, Archer.

The rest of the Rays did their parts, especially Desmond Jennings who hit his 11th homer of the season, scoring twice and driving in three runs. Actually, one of those runs came on a GIDP, so Jennings won't get credit for it, but hey, RBIs are kind of silly as a statistic anyways, so who cares? Wil Myers went two-for-four with a double and a stolen base.

Erik Bedard pitched pretty well in his five innings of work, giving up three runs on eight hits and two walks, with three strikeouts. Of Bedard's three runs, only two were earned, thanks to a costly error by ... Erik Bedard. Error rules are silly too. Also, Carlos Pena struck out three times and his team lost so it was pretty much a regular day for Houston.

More on the Astros at: The Crawfish Boxes More on the Rays at: DRays Bay

Red Sox 2, Athletics 3

Is it just me, or was this a big day for extra-inning games? Josh Donaldson (who should be an All-Star) did everything he could to single-handedly win this game, carrying an unreal .667 WPA out of this game. First, he tied the game at two in the seventh inning on a two-run homer, and then hit a fliner! single to drive in Chris Young and walk it off in the 11th. He's basically making his 2012 look like a total abberation. And while All-Star Bartolo Colon pitched fairly well, he didn't exactly rock the world, as he gave up two runs on eight hits over six and one-third frames and struck out four.

The Sox put up a valiant effort, with rookie Brandon Workman pitching a very similar line to Colon: six and one-third innings, two runs given up, but only two hits allowed and one walk balanced by five strikeouts. Offensively, Jacoby Ellsbury got three singles in five chances, and MVP candidate very, very good player Dustin Pedroia logged a single, a double, and a walk in his five plate appearances.

More on the Red Sox at: Over The Monster More on the Athletics at: Athletics Nation

Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr.

Angels 3, Mariners 4

The Seattle Mariners had a very nice all-around game, getting a solid performance from All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma and some nice offense to finish a sweep on the Angels Sunday. Iwakuma, who won't be pitching on Tuesday, allowed three runs in seven innings, but struck out seven and only walked one. There were a few good offensive days on the flip as well -- Nick Franklin went 0-for-1, if you're an at-bat snob, but he also added three walks on offense. Michael Saunders hit a very important home run in the second, driving in the not-quite-a-bust-anymore Justin Smoak. Smoak doubled, singled, and walked in four chances.

Joe Blanton didn't have a very good outing, going only four innings, giving up four runs, and throwing too many (96) pitches. The Halos' bullpen guys did a nice job, adding four scoreless innings of relief. Howie Kendrick ran some offense off the M's, posting two doubles in four plate appearances.

Can we talk about Mark Trumbo for a little bit, if we're going to talk about the Angels? Trumbo is actually having a pretty sharp season, and today was no exception. He makes up for his shoddy OBP and holes in his approach with phenomenal power, and he knocked his 21st homer of the season during this game, and also drew a walk. If he continues to provide positive defensive value (which he is according to UZR, DRS and FRAA), then he's a really effective player.

More on the Angels at: Halos Heaven More on the Mariners at: Lookout Landing

Rockies 3, Dodgers 1

Michael Cuddyer and Jhoulys Chacin led the Rockies to this 3-1 victory over L.A. Cuddyer provided the offense, hitting a two-run bomb in the fifth to put the Rockies ahead for good, and driving in all of Colorado's runs on his two hits. The homer was his 16th of the season. As for run prevention, Jhoulys Chacin pitched six strong innings, giving up just one run on six hits and three walks, with six strikeouts. He then turned it over to the formidable threesome of Rex Brothers, Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt, who didn't allow a baserunner over the final three innings.

Ricky Nolasco's second start as a Dodger didn't go quite as well as his first, as he gave up three runs on eight hits and four walks over five innings. He also plunked Carlos Gonzalez. On offense, no one managed an extra-base hit, but Skip Schumaker and Scott Van Slyke both had two hits in the game.

More on the Rockies at: Purple Row More on the Dodgers at: True Blue LA

Giants 1, Padres 10

The Padres beat the Giants by nine runs, so the Lincecum no-hitter magic has pretty much worn off. This time, the Padres launched four homers -- three of which were off of starter Barry Zito -- on their way to a 10-1 drubbing. The day's outfield -- Chris Denorfia, Will Venable, and Carlos Quentin -- had three home runs, six hits and a walk in their dozen plate appearances. Catcher Nick Hundley had a homer and two singles of his own, and he was the team's leader in WPA (.154). Starting pitcher Eric Stults had another fine outing, giving up just one run on five hits and two walks in six innings, while striking out five. Oh, and Everth Cabrera had an up-and-down day on the bases. He reached base three times, but stole a base and was picked off once.

For the Giants, Barry Zito was a disaster, only lasting two innings while giving up three homers. He basically was the total opposite of Tim Lincecum's Saturday gem. Relievers Jake Dunning and George Kontos weren't much better either. On offense, Andres Torres' triple to lead the game off was the best offense the team could muster, and Torres scored the team's only run. Also, Jeff Francoeur made his first appearance for the team, going 1-for-4 -- which is probably about what the Giants should expect going forward.

More on the Giants at: McCovey Chronicles More on the Padres at: Gaslamp Ball

Brewers 5, Diamondbacks 1

If you're not a Brewers fan, you might be missing out on just how unfortunate a season the blue-and-gold is having. On Sunday, Milwaukee won its first game of the season series against Arizona riding Logan Schafer and a shockingly-good Wily Peralta to victory. Peralta really was dynamite, only allowing a single extra-base hit over seven innings -- a solo home run to Miguel Montero in the fifth. Other than that, Peralta allowed a total of seven hits and walked two, while striking out eight, good for a Game Score of 65. The aforementioned Schafer added a solo homer in the fifth, sacrificed a run home in the second, and scored the second run of the game in the first. Jean Segura also reached base four times on three singles and a walk, while Carlos Gomez singled home two runs.

The D-Backs couldn't string together enough singles to score a run, save on that Montero solo shot. Paul Goldschmidt and both had two hits in four plate appearances in the three and four spots in the order, but they couldn't create any runs. And Ian Kennedy didn't have a very good outing, lasting six and one-third innings but also giving up five runs on nine hits and two walks. To put that in perspective, his single-game ERA/FIP was 7.11/4.80, and this was his third bad start in his last four outings.

More on the Brewers at: Brew Crew Ball More on the Diamondbacks at: AZ Snake Pit

Cardinals 10, Cubs 6

The Cubs had the game tied at six going into the ninth inning, but their arch-rivals were able to score four in the final frame to win the game and split this series going into the All-Star break. Allen Craig (.250 WPA) hit a single to plate Carlos Beltran and put the team up by one, but then Yadier Molina (.308 WPA) took Kevin Gregg deep, plating Craig, David Freese and himself to put the game out of reach. Craig actually reached base five times in this game, with three singles, a double, and a walk -- while Molina reached four times with the homer, a double, and two singles. Either would be a nice choice for Player of the Game.

Though the Cubs made Adam Wainwright look worse than usual -- the Cards' ace gave up four runs over six innings -- six runs just wasn't enough against St. Louis's scary-clutch offense. Darwin Barney was the team's offensive star in this one, driving in those four runs against Wainwright on a single and then a three-run home run. Cody Ransom offered up a critical RBI double as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. And All-Star Travis Wood may have only given up three runs in his five and two-thirds innings of work, but he scattered ten hits, walked three, and struck out only one.

More on the Cardinals at: Viva El Birdos More on the Cubs at: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Weekend Lineouts

  • I submitted a small piece for an edition of The Rotation at SBNation's MLB hub, and in it I predicted that we'd see two more no-hitters this year -- one from an established ace (a la Verlander) and one from an unexpected source (a la Dallas Braden). So here's the question ... which category does Tim Lincecum's Saturday no-no fall into?
  • Chris Tillman was named to the All-Star team as an injury replacement, and that makes me sad. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Tillman personally -- but he's not in the top 30 in the AL among qualified starters in either FIP or fWAR, and he doesn't crack the top 20 in ERA. James Shields or even Hiroki Kuroda would've been much, much better choices.
  • The All-Star Weekend Futures Game also happened on Sunday, but we'll talk more about the Futures Game and some of the prospects that played in it later in the week -- since we'll have precious little game action to discuss.
  • Jarred Cosart debuted for the Astros and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning! Talk about a debut! Is he going to be the first of the Astros to get called up and actually be a star player going forward?
  • Alex Rodriguez is being promoted to Double-A, so he's one step closer to frustrating people on a major-league level again! I, for one, am excited to see him make it back to the big leagues, and hope he can find an effective enough swing to start chasing some records. But I'm probably in the minority here.

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn

Puig Watch

Opposing Starter: Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies

Daily Stat Line: 1-for-3 with a pinch-hit single and a run scored

2013 Season Stat Line: .391/.422/.616 -- 8 HR -- 192 wRC+

Today's Puig Status: "Because he's the hero Gotham baseball deserves, but not the one it needs right now ... and so we'll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector ... a dark knight."

So that's it! Don't forget to follow up with feedback, and we'll see you tomorrow!

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @bgrosnick.