PITTSBURGH, PA - Brad Lincoln #32 of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who replaced teammate Erik Bedard #45 after he left with an injury, pitches against the Washington Nationals during the game. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Brad Lincoln started for the Pirates on Monday night, as he hopes to build on his first-round pedigree.
The Pirates' streak of consecutive losing seasons would be more adorable if there were a cute curse attached to it. Like, if after the 1992 NLCS, someone hid Sid Bream's car keys out of revenge, and he was late for his daughter's ballet recital, then it could be The Curse of When Sid Bream Was Late to His Daughter's Ballet Recital. It doesn't quite have the same ring as "Curse of the Bambino", but it has a certain appeal.
It certainly has a better ring than "The Curse of the Pirates Making Awful Decision After Awful Decision, Compounded by Poor Luck," which is the real curse. That's not adorable. That's very, very depressing. Case in point: the 2006 draft.
The Pirates picked fourth overall, and while they didn't have the worst pick of the draft, they watched other teams get rich around them. Evan Longoria went right before their pick. Brandon Morrow went one selection after. Clayton Kershaw and Drew Stubbs went shortly after that. If you remember the scene where all the kids described what they got trick-or-treating in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Pirates are the ones who said "I got a rock." The Rockies got a bag full of tuberculosis, so it could have been worse, but the Pirates, yet again, didn't hit on a top-ten draft pick.
Even worse was that they were willing to take a bit of a risk. They were willing to overlook a player's stature and make a pick based on raw stuff alone. It didn't matter that the pitcher was listed at six feet (which probably meant he was shorter) -- the Pirates were enamored of him. Scouts were enamored of him. So they took Brad Lincoln. Five picks later, Tim Lincecum was drafted.
Honestly, the difference between Lincecum and Lincoln at that time was something of a coin flip among draftniks. Lincecum had gaudy stats in the Pac-10, but he also had an unusual delivery. As a tiebreaker, that isn't a bad one. Brad Lincoln was a consensus top-o'-the-first talent. Twenty-three minor-league innings later, he was broken. The Pirates, man. They really ticked someone off up there.
The story isn't over, though. Lincoln has slowly clawed his way back to the majors after parts of four (!) seasons in Indianapolis. He did well in Triple-A, but he never forced himself into the Pirates' plans. He was called up in 2010, posting a 6.66 ERA -- the Pirates, man -- before a mostly forgettable 12 games in 2011.
This season, he's been helping out in relief:
Is there anything more useless than a 14-inning sample for a reliever? Sure. That stack of cassette tapes in your storage shed. The broken mandolin string that somehow got stuck in your cat's paw. Lots of things. But, point taken, those stats aren't especially unusual or trustworthy. His stuff is still well above-average, though.
Oh, hello, 92-m.p.h. sinker of death. You can see why the Pirates were never tempted to jettison Lincoln, no matter how badly they needed the 40-man-roster spot.
And on Monday, the Pirates will turn to Lincoln for a spot start in the place of Erik Bedard. (Edit: He won the game.) Lincoln starting a major-league game isn't unusual -- he's started 17 games for the Pirates -- but it's still interesting. Lincoln is a couple weeks away from turning 27, and he still has a chance to realize his potential. When it comes to unlikely success stories, last year had Brandon McCarthy, Bartolo Colon, and Ryan Vogelsong. A breakout season for Lincoln would be likelier than it was for any of those pitchers.
That isn't to say it's likely. But if the Pirates are going to catch a break some time in the next century, a revitalized Lincoln would be a good place to start. Note that I didn't say a reanimated Lincoln, because that's what my unreleased graphic novel is about. But a productive, healthy Lincoln doing good things for the Pirates would be a baseball success story just about every baseball fan could get behind.