Pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants walks back to the dugout after he was taken out of the game in the six inning against the Texas Rangers at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
It happened again. Sunday, Tim Lincecum lost. He didn't survive the sixth inning. He gave up five runs and it could have been worse.
Lincecum's making $18 million this season and he's 2-7 with a 6.00 ERA.
And as Bill Shaikin notes, Lincecum's on pace to set a really unenviable National League record. To wit:
An ERA+ of 100 is average, and higher is better. In 2008, when Lincecum won his first Cy Young award, he led the league with an ERA+ of 168.
Lincecum had an ERA+ of 60 as of Friday. The only pitchers in major league history with a lower ERA+ over a full season: Rube Bressler of the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics, and Gene Wright, who split the 1903 season between the Cleveland Naps and St. Louis Browns.
The obvious culprit is a loss of velocity. According to fangraphs.com, Lincecum's average fastball velocity has dropped from 94 mph in 2008 to 92 mph last season and 90 mph this season.
"I know what has been said about his velocity, but it's real close to what he pitched with in the postseason 2010," Bochy said. "That is a non-issue for us."
All of these things are indisputably true.
Well, except for one or two. I can't find anything about how hard Lincecum was throwing in October 2010. Also, I have no idea if Lincecum's arm strength is really a "non-issue" for the Giants. If you were the Giants, wouldn't you consider it at least a little bit of an issue? It's "easier" to be a great pitcher when you're throwing 92 than 90. Res ipsa loquitur.
But as Grant Brisbee wrote not so long ago, and as we'll probably keep writing until it's no longer apparent, Lincecum seems to have pitched significantly better than his (now) 6.00 ERA and 60 ERA+.
Look at Lincecum and Barry Zito. Both have pitched 72 innings this season. Lincecum has that 6.00 ERA, while Zito has a nifty 3.24 ERA. But if you had to choose one of them to win a game next weekend, which would you choose? Zito's given up eight home runs, Lincecum only six. Zito's got a 1.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio, significantly lower (i.e. worse) than Lincecum's 1.97 mark.
Zito's only edge is walks. He's walked 30 guys, while Lincecum's walked 37. That's a small edge, and more than balanced by the difference in their strikeouts.
You can do what you want, but I choose Lincecum.
I think Lincecum's been incredibly unlucky this season. I think his ERA will drop, if he's healthy enough to keep pitching. I think it will drop a lot. And it will need to, because I also think while Lincecum's ERA goes way down, Barry Zito's will go way up.