Following the announcement of Tim Lincecum’s season ending hip surgery on September 4th, it seems that Lincecum’s rocky career as a San Francisco Giant has the possibility of coming to an abrupt end. Following a strong rookie season in 2007, Lincecum went on to win back to back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 with plus-7.0 WAR seasons followed by two more strong seasons in 2010 and 2011 with plus-4.0 WAR in both years. Over the last four seasons Lincecum has been unable to regain his previous form and has been a below average pitcher a majority of the time with no season over 2.0 WAR and only 0.3 WAR in 2015.
With his struggles over the last four seasons following a great four or five years to begin his career, and given his expiring contract after this season, it seems pretty clear that the Giants are likely to move on from Lincecum in 2016. It’s amazing how far Lincecum has fallen from back-to-back Cy Young awards in his second and third seasons to a likely end to his career with the team that brought him up at only 23 years of age.
Following his surgery on his hip, Lincecum’s surgeon Marc Philippon has stated that he is optimistic that Lincecum can regain his previous form and velocity and get his career back on track. If Lincecum does recover well from his surgery and the circumstances are right for a return, he may very well find himself back pitching in San Francisco despite the possibility of the two sides cutting ties completely. Tim Lincecum is still only 31 years old this year and still could have at least five plus years left in his arm should he heal properly from this latest surgery.
After being selected tenth overall by the San Francisco Giants in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft, Lincecum made his Major League debut on May 6th, 2007 after less than a year in the Giants minor league system. With an injury to the Giants fifth starter Russ Ortiz, it was determined that Lincecum was as ready for big league action as he would ever be. He proved the Giants right that year before being shutdown in September because of a heavy innings load for the season. He finished the year with an ERA of 4.00, an FIP of 3.83 and an xFIP of 3.81 which was good for a WAR of 3.0 in only 146.1 major league innings.
Lincecum would follow up a strong rookie year with the two best years of his career on his way to consecutive Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 he finished the year with a 2.62 ERA/FIP with a WAR of 7.1. He followed this stellar performance in 2008 with an even better performance in 2009 and finished the year with a 2.48 ERA and a 2.34 FIP which was good for a 7.7 WAR and another Cy Young award.
Lincecum followed his Cy Youngs with two more four-plus WAR seasons although his performance did decline a bit from his two previous Cy Young seasons. Over these two years in 2010 and 2011, Lincecum saw a decline in his strikeout rate as well as increases in both his walk rate and home run rate. From 2012 to 2015 Lincecum had the worst four years of his career and was unable to produce an ERA under 4.00 and was under 2.0 WAR in all four years as well.
Lincecum seemed improved early this year when compared to the previous couple of years, but experienced several injuries over the course of the year that hindered his performance before he was shut down. No pitcher in recent memory has seen such a precipitous decline as has been experienced by Tim Lincecum over the last four seasons. An argument could be made for CC Sabathia, but his rapid decline kicked in as he closed in on 35, not 28 like Lincecum.
From 10.51 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.33 walks per nine innings, and a 2.62 ERA in his first Cy Young season in 2008 to only 7.07 strikeouts per nine innings, 4.48 walks per nine innings, and a 4.13 ERA in 2015. Following a successful hip surgery, the possibility of a return to former glory is possible for Lincecum despite the many struggles over the better part of the last four seasons. Whether it is with the Giants or with some other team, Lincecum still has time to salvage a career that was once so promising.