Today’s article: “Super Freak,” Wendy Thurm, Sports on Earth
The first thing I think of when I hear the name “Tim Lincecum” is Brandon Morrow. I’m sure you’re aware, Cam, but the M’s drafted Morrow over Lincecum, who went five spots later, in the 2006 MLB Draft. To be fair, there were reasons at the time to make the selection: Morrow had the bigger body, the projectable stuff, the degree from UC Berkeley. But Lincecum was the hometown kid, an attendee of UW, and that choice looked like the most idiotic one in the world in just a short period of time, as Lincecum rose through the Giants system and posted back-to-back 7-WAR seasons at the ages of 24 and 25. Meanwhile, Morrow was the classic “flashes of talent” type of guy, throwing 7.2 innings of no-hit ball in his first start but struggling to locate in pretty much all others.
At the end of 2008, that looked the Mariners biggest draft blunder. Six years later, the conversation has changed. Lincecum’s decline has been well documented, reaching its nadir in 2012, as he posted a 5.18 ERA and was moved to the bullpen for the Giants’ World Series run. Despite my bitterness at the Mariners for failing to draft the guy, I’ve always rooted for him, and I found myself really rooting for him to finish off the no-hitter yesterday.
Lincecum is 30 now, no longer the promising young superstar with the funky delivery and a devastating changeup. No longer does he suppress home runs at a freakish rate. Against all odds, the pitcher with one of the most unorthodox approaches is the most unorthodox thing of all: average.
I’m not sure if he has any historical comps. Of others with multiple Cy Young awards, there’s only two that are not either Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers, Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain. McLain might be the best answer — a guy who put up back-to-back seasons of 6.8 and 6.7 WAR but was otherwise an average-to-below average pitcher for the entirety of his brief major league career.
So how do you think Lincecum is remembered 20 years from now? Outside of these random no-hitters he’s thrown the last couple of years, he’s been largely forgotten by the MLB fanbase at large. He had one of the most brilliant peaks of any pitcher I’ve watched, but his 28.2 WAR is nowhere near high enough to even start sniffing around the vaunted halls of Cooperstown.
Before I get to talking Timmy: is Morrow the only Berkeley athlete to ever actually get a degree? Serious question.
There’s certainly never been anyone like Lincecum in our time. When I texted you last night, suggesting we discuss his no-no today, I was inspired by this bit from ESPN’s BottomLine: Lincecum is now only the fourth pitcher in MLB history to have both two Cy Youngs and no-hitters to his name. His company? Roy Halladay (one of whose no-no’s was in the playoffs), Randy Johnson, and Sandy Koufax. Halladay’s the best pitcher of his generation. Johnson, according to WAR, is the best left-hander of all time. And Koufax had perhaps best peak of any pitcher, ever. He’s also in the Hall of Fame, where Halladay and Johnson should soon join him.
Like you said, though, Lincecum won’t be remember among these greats. There’s almost no chance his face is replicated on a Cooperstown plaque.
But, man, the peaks. You brought up M’s fans’ lament at Morrow, but I don’t think people outside Seattle realized how bad it truly was. I think Dave Cameron may’ve even banned “why’d we draft him?” comments from the U.S.S. Mariner blog. All that outcry was a direct result of how truly freakish Lincecum was early on. We envisioned what could’ve been: years of a Lincecum-Felix one-two punch. And no, not the other way around.
Yet, it’s impossible to imagine how future fans will remember him. I really can’t think of any good comparisons. One that came to mind was Dwight Gooden, the Metropolitan who annihilated the NL his first two seasons, before declining demonstrably (contrary to baseball lore, though, Fangraphs says Gooden was actually quite good for awhile after). But the thing that separates Lincecum from Gooden, perhaps unfairly, is that he has the hardware. It’s one thing to say a guy dominated for a couple years. It’s another to say a guy collected two Cy Youngs in as many years, and then pitched two no-hitters half a decade later.
I really don’t know. His resume of awards finds its company in Cooperstown. His statistical resume makes for nothing more than an interesting back of a baseball card.
Ah shit, hit me with the Daily Cal link. What’s funny is that Morrow didn’t even end up getting a degree, apparently he just left after three years. We’re a good school! I swear!
Yeah, I hate to say it, but Lincecum certainly doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay and Sandy Koufax. He was a supernovae, burning bright and exploding fast. I don’t know if that sentence was scientifically accurate, but you get the point.
That’s a bold declaration to say Lincecum would’ve ranked ahead of Felix in those nascent King Felix seasons, but looking at the stats, there’s really no comparison. Timmy was blowing him out of the water in those years. I’m almost positive Cameron banned Lincecum talk on U.S.S. Mariner. Now, if anything, that conversation has shifted to Jeff Clement over Troy Tulowitzki, which is in retrospect an even egregiously awful mistake. I guess that just goes to show how much of a crapshoot the MLB Draft can be. We talked about the NBA draft versus the NFL draft yesterday, but the MLB draft is on a different stratosphere of unpredictability.
Scientifically accurate, I do believe, but not grammatically, as “supernovae” is plural. Maybe think about switching majors, Mike.
You said you’ve always cheered Lincecum on, as have I. Part of that’s the Puget Soundian in us, the thought that we can visit Pike Place Market and walk on a brick with the Lincecum family name. And I like him double-especially, because he’s a Dawg (who apparently once passed out in my house’s boiler room after a drink too many?). But Lincecum’s fans stretch beyond Seattle and San Francisco. He’s the classic underdog, a guy who takes down proverbial Goliaths with a high-schooler’s physique. He’s relatable, a dude who, despite his millions, would still rather spend his cash on a dub-sack than a haircut. (Just kidding, no way Lincecum buys less than an ounce at a time.)
On that Stoner Timmy note, I’m going to end this exchange with a quick story. Keep in mind, this story was told to me by a friend of a friend, who himself heard it from a friend of a friend. But the friend of a friend who told me seemed to trust the friend of the friend who told him, and I trusted my friend of a friend too, so maybe it’s at least 10% factual.
There’s a young guy, employed by the Giants, hanging out in the clubhouse. He’s not a player or the batboy, more of the team mule. Anyways, Bruce Bochy comes into the clubhouse and finds said mule. Bochy’s pissed. Timmy’s scheduled to start a game in just a couple hours, but still hasn’t arrived at the stadium. Bochy tells Mr. Mule to go to Timmy’s apartment, which is just across the street from AT&T, and find out what the fuck he’s doing.
So the kid rushes over to the high-rise , I guess tells management he’s with the team, and takes the elevator up to Timmy’s pad. He knocks on the door, and, sure enough, Timmy answers. Behind him, the kid sees a bong sitting aside a clutter of paper. Just hours before he’s set to throw the opening pitch, Timmy’s gettin’ high and signing fan mail. So high, in fact, he forgot about the game.
The kid’s visit obviously reminds Timmy of his contractual obligations, so they head back to the stadium together. Timmy preps as best a couch-inclined guy can in the short time.
And, story goes, proceeds to pitch seven innings of shutout ball.
Author’s note: the Email Exchange will be on hiatus tomorrow and Monday. Cameron’s vacationing to celebrate his 21st (that’s right, the Twitter bio lied), but look out for an upcoming Mariners post from the less sexy author of your favorite blog!