He tried long hair, he tried short hair. He even tried facial hair.
Nothing seemed to work. At one time, he was MLB’s best pitcher, leading baseball in fWAR from 2008 to 2009. He was an opposing hitter’s nightmare, with a fastball velocity that approached 100 mph.
Tim Lincecum was all of this and more. He was a two-time Cy Young award winner, a four-time All-Star, a workhorse that threw over 215 innings in four straight seasons.
But he quickly flamed out.
After a superb 2011 season in which he posted a 2.74 ERA with 220 strikeouts, Lincecum began his hard fall. A 5.18 ERA in 2012 remains his career high (min. 100 innings), but the strikeouts stopped coming as his fastball quickly lost its signature velocity. Lincecum went from being a future Hall of Famer to a “what could have been” in the matter of a few years.
What makes his story one of the most confusing is the why. Why did Tim Lincecum lose his incredible talent, and why so fast? It wasn’t injuries, at least at first; Lincecum threw 150+ innings in each of the three years after his last All-Star appearance. It didn’t seem like it was age; Lincecum was 28 during that 5.18-ERA season, still plenty young to still pitch well and throw hard. Maybe it was just that Lincecum never learned how to pitch.
According to Brooks Baseball, Lincecum’s maximum four-seam fastball velocity dropped nearly 3 mph from 2011 to 2012, from up at 97.1 to down to 94.8. His average fastball velocity also saw a near-2 mph fall, too.
Lincecum had always relied on being a pitcher that could blow a fastball by the hitter; even during his Cy Young-winning 2008, his 9.1 percent walk rate was half a percentage point higher than the league-average 8.1 mark for starting pitchers. It didn’t matter then, though, as Lincecum’s bat-missing ability more than made up for it.
As the strikeouts fell, the walks went up. His walk rate ballooned all the way up to 10.9 percent in 2012, and never fell below 9.0 percent in the years since.
(The weirdest thing, though, is that Lincecum threw both of his two career no-hitters after he was in the midst of his “decline,” in 2013 and 2014. He truly gave us a blast from the past in those two starts. They were fun to watch.)
Today, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that Lincecum is still just 33 years old. Lincecum was so good, so fast that he was just 27 years old with all four All-Star appearances and both Cy Youngs already under his belt.
At age 32, Lincecum threw what some thought was his last pitch in the Major Leagues. He was trying to make a comeback with the Angels, but a 9.16 ERA and a 32-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio probably was not going to cut it.
After sitting out the entire 2017 season, Lincecum is back, working out at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven baseball training program based in Seattle, WA that focuses on the development of velocity and command for pitchers of all ages. Driveline has a reputation of helping pitchers add velocity, and it appears that they are trying to do the same with Lincecum for his comeback attempt.
He appears motivated, at least so far:
FOR RELEASE:— KyleB @ Driveline (@drivelinebases) December 19, 2017
Yes, this is Tim Lincecum at @DrivelineBB.
Yes, Adam Ottavino took the picture while training here.
Yes, Tim will throw for teams at a showcase in the near future.
No, I have no other information for you.
Send all communication to email@example.com. pic.twitter.com/0N0cXHVUq8
Lincecum has never been huge. Really, he’s been quite skinny and lanky for most of his career, listed at 5-11 and 170 lbs. Now, though, he’s big, and if that picture tells you anything, he’s serious about pitching (and pitching well) in 2018.
Until we see velocity numbers, I’m not going to get excited. It’s hard to expect Lincecum to go back out there and throw 95+ mph again. But if Driveline’s past has told us anything, it’s that he will be a better pitcher next year than he was last year. And that’s a really cool thought.
In an offseason in which Giancarlo Stanton has switched teams, a Japanese Babe Ruth has come to the United States and Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp were both traded in a salary dump (again), it only makes sense that Tim Lincecum would be joining them in the baseball headlines.
He’s just 33, and boy, he looks like he’s in the best shape of his life.
That’s not even an exaggeration.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.