In the 2010 LDS, Lincecum pitched a masterpiece against the Braves—1-0 complete game shut out, giving up 2 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 14. He threw 119 pitches; 75 were strikes. I remember his pitches diving out of the zone at the last second. The Braves swung and missed or fouled or hit weakly. They couldn’t get the bat on the pitches he threw. It was a great game.
In his second 2011 season start Lincecum faced the Braves again. He threw 110 pitches, 65 for strikes, in 6 1/3, giving up 6 hits and 6 walks and all 5 Braves’ runs, while striking out 6. As I remember, Lincecum’s stuff wasn’t horrible that game, but it wasn’t his best, and the Braves took most of the pitches that they’d whiffed on 6 months earlier. They had a plan. They forced him to throw a lot of pitches by laying off close ones. If he’d been able to hit the corners at the knees, he might’ve beaten them. But he couldn’t.
The Braves approach to Lincecum became a template. Other teams used it, and he struggled when his stuff wasn’t perfect. (The last great game I remember him pitching was the 133-pitch complete game shut out against the A’s, in June 2011 I think.) Meanwhile, time passed. He’ll be 29 years old next month.
Are the 30-year-old muscles and tendons and ligaments unable now to compress the finely tuned violence of his motion? Last month he pitched a game against the Padres that looked a lot like the 2010 PS masterpiece against the Braves. Other games have looked otherwise. The goal seems simple to me: When his pitches are moving, all he needs to do is keep them at the knees and over the plate. Why can’t he pound that part of the zone any more?
As to trading him, I still don’t see it. Why would any other team want to trade anyone of proven value in order to add Lincecum to its roster for the remainder of a one-year contract?
I think we’ve got him for the rest of the year. So we’ll have plenty of opportunity to see if his best stuff can still get the job done. Given not only what he has accomplished overall, but specifically what he has done for this team, I’m pulling for him all the way. But all bets are off.