Giants might need Tim Lincecum after all
I know my Giants coverage has been sporadic so far this season, thanks to the Warriors being the best team on Earth and my realization that no one reads recaps unless they’re written by a guy whose last name rhymes with Frisbee. Weird, staying up until midnight (or later) writing about a game everyone already saw wasn’t a great strategy for my website. Who knew?
That doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to the games. And I have thoughts. Takes, even. Hot ones!
The hitting is and will continue to be fine.
Remember when Matt Duffy was hitting like .175? Bruce Bochy gave him a day off of sorts, and his average is .400 in the nine games since.
Everyone won’t hit well at once, but there are enough good hitters that team-wide slumps should be rare. Hunter Pence is probably the team’s most productive hitter right now, and at some point Buster Posey will carry the team. Brandon Belt is on his way to an outstanding year, Joe Panik is slugging .500, Angel Pagan is hitting .325, and both Brandon Crawford and Denard Span are getting on base. Gregor Blanco is doing extremely well, despite some tough spot starts against aces.
The Giants strike out less than any other team in the National League, and they rank third in walks. That’s the formula they like — put the ball in play, work counts, and make it difficult for opposing starters to go more than five or six innings.
The bullpen is a work in progress.
The relievers’ combined ERA is 4.06, which isn’t all that great. Neither is their walk rate (3.5 per nine innings) or home run rate (0.98 per nine innings). Sergio Romo and George Kontos landed on the DL, but they can probably fight through this stretch with Derek Law providing help from the minors, the steadiness of Cory Gearrin, and Santiago Casilla anchoring the back end. However, they’re going to need to get better results from Josh Osich, Hunter Strickland and Javier Lopez.
The rotation is very top-heavy.
The only worry with Madison Bumgarner is velocity — his four-seam fastball is averaging 91.01 mph compared to 92.88 last April. His changeup and curveball are both 3 mph slower than last April, but that doesn’t matter much because he only throws those pitches a combined 15% of the time. His cutter is the only pitch he’s throwing at the same speed as a year ago, so maybe his four-seam velocity drop is just a function of mechanics, which he’s been struggling with all Spring.
Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are also throwing their fastball about a mile and a half slower this year than last April, and both of them are doing fine. Cueto has actually been one of the 10 best pitchers in the National League, and his shutout on Tuesday was artfully done.
This is where we get to the headline. I know what you’re thinking. Dude, you barely write about this team. Openly pining for Tim Lincecum is such a casual fan thing to do. Hey, I didn’t think I’d be writing this either. I got as tired as anybody of watching the little guy sweat profusely, give up loud contact, throw balls in the dirt, and forget to field his position because he couldn’t stop thinking about what he was doing wrong.
lincecum consistently 90-91 in dust storm monday, via observer. likely to throw this weekend, w/ showcase possible next wk
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) April 29, 2016
lincecum is still using giants fields in arizona. his old team is interested, but showcase likely to draw 20 teams.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) April 29, 2016
Jon Heyman’s first tweet could use a little context. He was pitching in a dust storm? Was the wind at his back, aiding his fastball?
I haven’t written anything about this, but it’s interesting that he’s using the Giants’ field in Scottsdale. Right? It doesn’t mean he’ll re-sign with the Giants, but it means that the relationship is still very amicable. And that could help the Giants this season, especially if he can finally throw a showcase at some point (we’ve been hearing about this Lincecum showcase since February). However, the Giants probably don’t want Lincecum to rush, because they still need time to figure out what’s going on with Jake Peavy and Matt Cain.
If you’re a Lincecum skeptic — and let’s face it, everyone besides his dad and the most hardcore stoners have been in this camp at some point — think about the Giants’ current options. Are any of them better than a healthy Lincecum who can hit 90 mph consistently?
Peavy pitches tonight in New York, with Cain to follow on Saturday. Both pitchers have thrown 21 innings in four starts. Their stats are pretty similar. Cain’s ERA is 6.43. Peavy’s is 6.86. Cain has allowed six more walks, while Peavy has given up eight more hits.
Why do the Giants still carry 13 pitches? Cain and Peavy.
Cain had a couple games in a row where he pitched really well for four innings before everything went to crap. His stuff looks pretty good, and he’s under contract next year for $21 million, so he’s going to get his chances to prove he can match the output from his first start, when he gave up two runs in six innings against the Dodgers.
Peavy is not under contract for next year, and he’s throwing batting practice. He’s allowing 15 hits per nine innings in his 15th season. He’s pitched over 2,200 innings in his career. He’s either going to figure out how to get major league hitters out at some point soon, or he’s not, and the Giants have to prepare for the latter scenario.
Who would replace either Cain or Peavy? Chris Heston wasn’t pitching well as a long reliever in the majors, so he was sent down to Sacramento. He allowed two runs over four innings in his first Triple-A start. He’s probably the first option. Clayton Blackburn gave up five earned runs and 11 hits in three innings in his last start, his ERA is 4.57, and he’s allowed 30 hits in 21.1 innings. It’s an offensive league and a small sample size, but he’s far from a fail-safe option. Ty Blach has walked 10 in 19.2 innings, and his ERA is 5.95. Chris Stratton has a 7.59 ERA.
Is Lincecum guaranteed to come in and be a solid fourth starter? No, but can we really say the same for Cain, Peavy, Heston, Blackburn, or any other pitcher in the system? That’s why, if the Giants can convince Lincecum to join the bullpen for a short while, until Cain or Peavy either get hurt or get “hurt” (translation: need some time away because they can’t get outs), they could possibly save their bullpen. It’s also a move that could prevent them from having to make a midseason deal for a starter.
Crazy idea? Probably, but something tells me the last chapter of the Lincecum in San Francisco story hasn’t been written yet. And by “something,” I mean watching Cain and Peavy pitch. (Now watch them combine for 15 scoreless innings at Citi Field over the next two days.)