With the Tim Lincecum comeback experiment in full stride, the Texas Rangers have some decisions to make about how they will utilize the two-time former Cy Young Award Winner and World Series champion.
As it stands now, the Rangers will look to work Lincecum in as a reliever. Scouts have commended his mechanics and smoothness of delivery, but it is a general consensus that the soon to be 34-year-old’s stuff will play best out of the bullpen. He has a plethora of solid relief outings under his belt, mostly in San Francisco Giants’ playoff games, and the Rangers are hoping to tap into whatever else Lincecum still has in the tank.
The Rangers’ bullpen posted the MLB’s third-worst bullpen earned runs average in 2017 and was one of only two bullpens in the sport to not save more than thirty games as a collective unit. With no extremely notable offseason acquisitions, the Rangers bullpen is wide open for competition. So, where does Tim Lincecum, most recently with the Los Angeles Angels, fit into the picture?
An obvious role for Lincecum would be a swingman or long-reliever role. He could come in when the Rangers’ starter doesn’t have much to offer and try to preserve the magnitude of the deficit, while giving the offense a chance to comeback. He could also fill-in as a spot starter in a pinch. Given that he was an ace starting pitcher at one point in his career, Lincecum certainly has the stamina to pitch multiple innings.
However, if his skills are as solid as advertised, it would be wasteful to have him simply as the mop-up man, and it is unforeseen how long he can consistently pitch in the majors in a given game. This role is more designed for veterans Jesse Chavez or Bartolo Colon, also on deals with Texas.
The backend of the bullpen is Lincecum’s ticket back to stardom. With the only legitimate options for setup man and closer being Alex Claudio and Matt Bush, Lincecum has a realistic shot of finishing games and accumulating saves with Texas in 2018. Bush and Claudio had solid 2017 campaigns respectively, but the Rangers could keep them as set-up men and as the bridges to Tim Lincecum.
Besides, Claudio is one of the few effective left-handed relievers the Rangers have, and would be better suited for a “first lefty out of the bullpen” role. Bush, with a 100 MPH fastball, would be a quality middle-reliever as well.
This keeps the Rangers’ bullpen deep and allows a veteran presence to be on the mound when the ninth inning rolls around. Claudio, Bush, and Lincecum are all very different pitchers in terms of what they throw and how they deliver it, and it would make for a very tough trio of pitchers to hit at the end of a game. Bush and Claudio are more experienced relievers and could be more versatile not locked into the closer role.
For a team that seemingly patched together their 2018 bullpen with pitchers from an already disastrous 2017 bullpen and a few veterans looking to reestablish their careers, the Rangers have some bright spots, and Tim Lincecum will be a dynamic component in improving their 4.76 ERA from a year ago.