Originally posted on SF Giants Nirvana  |  Last updated 4/23/12

After surrendering 16 runs across his first 13.2 innings, Tim Lincecum finally settled down and got good results, allowing one run through five innings of work.

The good:

  • Lincecum struck out eight of the 23 batters he faced, and had them whiffing on his fastballs. Of course, swing-and-miss stuff hasn’t really been the problem for Lincecum so far. Through his first three starts, he actually had a 23.2% strikeout rate; while that is the lowest he’s ever had in a season, it’s not a terribly significant dropoff.
  • One extra-base hit: a double. This, on the other hand, was a problem for Lincecum in his first three starts. In those previous 13.2 innings, he had allowed seven doubles, two triples, and two homers (that’s a .265 ISO!). That’s really been the root of his troubles this season — that he’s been hit hard. So it’s very nice to see this step in the right direction.
  • A strong first inning. Lincecum has allowed nine runs in three first-innings this season, so his not getting into a jam right away was a positive sign.

The bad:

  • Lincecum walked five of the 23 batters he faced. Control hasn’t been Lincecum’s problem in the early going — in fact, the 5.8% walk rate he brought into this start was a career-best  — but it’s slightly concerning to see him revert to these control issues. At the risk of jumping to conclusion, I wonder if this might suggest that he had been trading walks for hard contact — meaning this start constituted a change in his approach.
  • According to Brooks Baseball, Lincecum averaged 89.8 mph on his four-seamer, topping out at 91.9 mph. No improvement there.
  • 108 pitches. This is, of course, directly related to the high walk total.

So…is Lincecum back? Perhaps, inasmuch as he’ll be an effective pitcher from this point forward. I can’t say with any confidence, however, that Lincecum will finish 2012 with better numbers than 2011. I think this very well could be the worst season of his career. Is that a big deal? Not entirely. Pitchers tend to peak at a pretty early age, and it’s not at all atypical that Lincecum is experiencing a downward trend at this age. I’m becoming increasingly worried about the possibility of the Giants offering him a lucrative contract extension, though. It’s probably not going to be worth taking on that kind of risk, particularly given that they’ve already invested in Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain.

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