Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum will not make things easy on the San Francisco Giants or their fans. Tim Lincecum, for a while, pitched like a man on his way out of town. Thanks for all the memories, Timmy. We’ll always have October.

After posting career worst numbers across the board in 2012, Tim Lincecum returned with something to prove in 2013 (despite coming off a second World Series championship.) Lincecum was, of course, relegated to the bullpen during that championship drive, providing key relief in big spots during the Giants victories over the Cardinals and Tigers.

For a guy with something to prove, Timmy didn’t exactly do a lot of “proving” in the early stages of the season. It felt like he walked the ballpark in April and then couldn’t get anything right in May. For a pitcher in a walk year, the only question remaining for the Giants revolved around the qualifying offer: would the Giants extend Lincecum the $14MM contract? What if he, gulp, took it?

Suddenly, the question isn’t “will Timmy accept a qualifying offer” but “what will it take to sign Tim Lincecum?” Given his recent performances, the idea of a grabbing the two-time Cy Young winner on the cheap seems increasingly unlikely.

Tim Lincecum continued showcasing what he really can be yesterday, making another great start for the Giants at home against the Brewers. Lincecum went eight innings, allowing just a single hit and one walk against eight strikeouts.

Depending on your willingness to squint at his numbers, Lincecum’s produced solid results for the Giants in 2013. Well, maybe results aren’t the best measuring stick.

Every start counts and runs allowed count, too. While ERA estimators that regress his home run rate (and thereby ignore the intense hitability of his early season fastball) and glorify his gaudy strikeout rates smile on Timmy’s 2013, the actual “runs on the board” numbers are less kind. Baseball Reference’s flavor of WAR has Tim Lincecum below replacement level this season as he allows more than 4.5 runs per nine innings.

But reasons for optimism, if you’re Lincecum’s agent, are everywhere. The command problems Lincecum battled early in the season — while not gone completely — are less of an issue of late for Lincecum, as evidenced by his .644 OPS allowed since June 1.

That span includes two bad starts and two mediocre outings, it should be noted. The great starts tend to stand out in the memory, such as his spectacular no-hitter against the Padres before the All Star break. Lincecum has the third-highest swinging strike rate in baseball over that time frame, not to mention a top-ten strikeout rate and a 3.39 ERA.

There are multiple reason for Lincecum’s recent turnaround, one key explanation centering around his newfound dedication to study. Below is an artist’s depiction of a vintage Tim Lincecum game-planning session:

But Giants reporter Andrew Baggerly insists those days are over for Lincecum, working hard with star catcher Buster Posey to ensure he’s properly prepared before each start.

On his day to pitch, Lincecum used to joke with reporters and just chill out in the dugout while his teammates took batting practice. He was the whiz kid who could ace the test without studying for it. Now you barely see him when it’s his turn to take the mound.

While Lincecum swearing up and down he’s a new man is certainly a fine sales pitch, both for the Giants and any other team willing to invest in the slight right-hander, the results are becoming difficult to argue.

And so the great unanswered question must be asked again: what happens to free agent Tim Lincecum this winter?

Considering all he’s been through as a member of the Giants, he certainly means more to them compared to any other team in baseball. Your boy Grant Brisbee wrote the following in his game story on the Giants win yesterday, regarding the idea that the Giants might have moved their former ace at the recently-passed trade deadline:

Imagine Lincecum having this exact start with the Braves tomorrow. I would have rooted for him, of course. But it would have been one of the most bittersweet moments of the past 10 years, if not 20, to see Lincecum rise out of the ashes in a different uniform.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. That doesn’t mean he didn’t at least think it. Nor he is alone in feeling this way.

Tim Lincecum may well be perfect for the San Francisco Giants. Setting all the off-field/feel good stuff aside, their ballpark is an ideal match for a man with a declining ground ball rate and the ability to work with Buster Posey certainly makes staying in SF an attractive option for any pitcher.

But can the Giants compete dollar for dollar with other teams who see the same things in his game? The services of Tim Lincecum will not come cheap. It sounds reductive to state that each time out he’s pitching for his life but the more evidence Tim Lincecum can show prospective employers that he’s worth a significant investment and rotation spot, the more compelling offers he will see.

Offers he will see and ignore and eventually re-sign in San Francisco. For more than you think but less than he would have received had he inked a long-term deal with the Giants those many years ago. It’s the only way this can play out, really. Timmy forever.

And the rest

This is sure a thing that somebody made. Raise it!

Ryan Raburn signed a two-year extension with Cleveland and then they decided to use him as a pitcher in mop up duty last night. Big week for Raburn! []

Big week for Ryan Raburn fans, too. (re: Raburn pitching)

Speaking of big weeks, big week for the graphics department of FSN Ohio!

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I really liked this angle on the Chase Utley contract extension. [Baseball Nation]

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