When Tim Lincecum fell to the Giants as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 draft, it was because the majority of the teams that picked before San Francisco — the (Devil) Rays can be excused for selecting Evan Longoria third, for obvious reasons — felt Lincecum would either flat out crumble under the work load of a major league starter, or peak as a less-sought-after commodity: A closer. They were dead wrong, including even his hometown Mariners who opted instead to draft Brandon Morrow, only later to grow frustrated and trade him for a reliever that lost four games this past week (Brandon League).
Lincecum did not crumble with the every-fifth-day 200-inning workload of a big league starter. He’s also not merely closing games, though he has pitched into the ninth inning a number of times, albeit not as often as Roy Halladay. Instead, he’s closing in on 1,000 career strikeouts in just his fourth full season, and enjoying his time as one of the games elite starting pitchers.
Tonight against the Rockies, Tim Lincecum will pitch game 132 in his young but already illustrious career which began on a warm Sunday evening in 2007 in front of a national audience versus the Phillies. It’ll be his 131st start, as it turns out, but that’s only because he pitched four innings in relief in April of 2008 when Bruce Bochy started Merkin Valdez – you read that correctly – in an effort to outsmart some fast-approaching inclement weather. It worked; the Giants won.
This is significant, because in a couple of weeks, and a few more starts, Lincecum will notch strikeout 1,000 in his career; he sits at 973 at the moment. I expect a few stories will be written about it. Yes, in case you were wondering, he strikes a lot of batters out. By the barrel, you might say. In fact, the number of strikeouts he’s accumulated in such a short time is historical.
Back in 2003, in a loss, Kerry Wood struck out Jeff Kent for his 1,000th strikeout in his 134th start. It was also just inning 853 for Wood. So, Lincecum, who has already thrown 866 innings, won’t be able to tie or surpass him in that regard. But he’ll position himself second, well ahead of Hideo Nomo who needed just less than 928 innings; notably, Sam McDowell (932.2 IP) and Cooperstown-bound Pedro Martinez (933.2 IP) did it just behind Nomo.
All is not lost. In terms of number of games taken, he has at least some shot at tying Wood’s record of fewest games to 1,000 strikeouts.
Lincecum has made eight starts – pitching at Los Angeles, at San Diego, versus the Dodgers, at Colorado, versus the Braves, at Washington, at New York and versus the Diamondbacks – thus far in 2011, giving him six different three-start stretches. He’s struck out 27 or more batters in two of them, or a third of those stretches…
He struck out 22 batters in three starts from March 31 to April 12; he struck out 27 batters in his three starts from April 6 to April 18; he struck out 20 batters in three turns from April 12 to April 23; in three starts from April 18 to April 29 he whiffed 23; from April 23 to May 4 he punched out 25, and from April 29 to May 10 – the last game he was on the slab – he fanned a total of 28 hitters.
So, Lincecum will need to sit down 27 total hitters by way of the strikeout in his next three starts in order to tie Wood for fewest games to 1,000 strikeouts, something he’s done two of six times this season. Those don’t seem like great odds and he may not quite match Wood’s 134 games, but it’ll be plenty impressive even if it takes 135 or 136 turns.
To put how impressive his strikeout totals are into context, and with a more recent example, you may want to consider right-handed flame thrower Justin Verlander, who has been clocked at 100 miles per hour and routinely throws into the high-nineties with a buckling curve.
Verlander began his big league career in 2005 when he threw just a few innings. But in 2006, while Lincecum was tormenting college hitters at the University of Washington, he made 30 starts. In 2007, the season in which Lincecum was promoted in May to finish with just 24 starts, Verlander took the ball 32 times. He’s made 33, 35 and 33 starts 2008-2010, and another nine this season. As impressive as he’s been, he struck out his 1,000th batter on April 23rd of this year against the White Sox, needing well more than a season longer than Lincecum will have needed when he fans number 1,000 in a couple of weeks.
And Lincecum hasn’t just been missing bats. He’s been phenomenal across the board. The diminutive ace has 59 wins to 30 losses, all while playing on San Francisco Giants teams that have been average offensively at their best, and atrocious at their worst – keep in mind, that a huge number of them came with Bengie Molina batting cleanup. He owns a career ERA of 2.98, an ERA+ of 144, a strikeout rate of 10.11 (strikeout to walk ratio of 3.13), a home run rate of just 0.55 and an impressive 2.81 FIP. According to FanGraphs, he’s already been worth 27 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), 20.7 bWAR according to B-R. For those who care to know, that’s more than half way to Jack Morris’ career bWAR of 39.3.
Timmy also has back-to-back-to-back strikeout titles in the National League – that’s something only Randy Johnson and Warren Spahn have done since World War II. He won back-to-back Cy Young awards in his first two full seasons, marking the first time that’d ever been done. He’s already won a World Series, as well as having started and won a World Series clinching game. And he has thick black ink splashed all over his baseball-reference (B-R) page to boot.
He’s also never once iced his arm after throwing one of his brilliant games, during which batter after batter invariably flailed at one of his several, mind-bending offerings. That’s why he’s a freak; that’s why he’s The Freak. It’s also why he may be forging one of the fastest and most ferocious paths to the Hall of Fame that we, or anyone, has ever seen.
If you think he’s slowing down, the wicked slider he added last September and his current average fastball velocity of 93.0 mile per hour – that’s more than half a mile per hour faster than his average velocity in 2009, his second Cy Young campaign – vehemently disagree.