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Tim Lincecum could have an interesting Hall of Fame case someday

Jul 14, 2013, 10:36 AM EDT

Tim Lincecum Getty Images

With his fastball hovering around 90 mph these days, Tim Lincecum will probably never again be what he was when he first came up. Of course, that’s a remarkably high standard; Lincecum won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons and led the NL in strikeouts three years in a row. From 2007 through 2011, he went 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts in 1,028 innings.

Unfortunately, even after Saturday’s 13-strikeout no-hitter, Lincecum is just 15-24 with a 4.82 ERA the last two years. He led the NL in losses last season, and he’s in the running to do it again if the no-no wasn’t the sign that a larger turnaround is coming. He’s still striking guys out, but he’s allowing more walks and homers in the process.

Just seven years and 84 victories down, we’re still a long way from knowing if Tim Lincecum might go into the Hall of Fame someday. Obviously, he’ll have to bounce back somewhat and hang around long enough to top 150 wins. Two Cy Young Awards will help a bunch, but it doesn’t make him a lock. Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain won two apiece and never received any Hall of Fame support. Johan Santana has two, but if his career is over with a 139 wins, he’s probably not getting in.

One thing in Lincecum’s favor is his postseason record. In 2010, he went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA for the World Series champs. Last year, he never started a game, yet he still played a key role in another championship, amassing a 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings out of the pen. Overall, he’s 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in October.

Right now, Lincecum’s best match would seem to be Orel Hershiser. Hershiser was on an obvious Hall of Fame path through six seasons, winning one Cy Young and receiving votes three other times. He was the ace of a championship team in 1988 and set a record for consecutive scoreless innings. Hershiser then blew out his shoulder four starts into year seven and was never the same pitcher afterwards, though he managed to hang around through 2000. Hershiser went 98-64 with a 2.69 ERA in his first six seasons and 106-86 with a 4.17 ERA afterwards.

That didn’t prove to be nearly enough for Hershiser, though. He was named on 11.2 percent of ballots in his first year and then fell off the ballot in his second year. Sadly for him, the standards for the Hall of Fame for starting pitchers are quite a bit higher than they used to be.

If Lincecum can pitch another 10 years and match Hershiser with something close to that 106-86 record, he should have a better shot. For one, the Hall of Fame standards will probably change a bit by then. Second, all of those sexy strikeouts should help. Lincecum has 1,442 right now, and he’ll finish the season at least third all-time in strikeouts through seven seasons. Only Tom Seaver (1,655) and maybe Bert Blyleven (1,546) will have more. The lone pitcher with a higher K rate through seven seasons (min. 1,000 innings) is Kerry Wood.

But first, Lincecum has to get to 160-170 wins or so. The lowest total of any starter in the Hall of Fame is 150 for Dizzy Dean. Addie Joss (160) and Sandy Koufax (165) are the only to other two under 175. Of the last 12 starters elected to the Hall of Fame, the lowest win total is Catfish Hunter’s 224. That Curt Schilling has just 216 is being held against him. Excellent pitchers like Kevin Brown (211), David Cone (194) and Dave Stieb (168) had their candidacies dismissed out of hand. Things will change some by 2025 and pitchers with more modest win totals should again be taken seriously. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  1. lunt101 - Jul 14, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    Wins are a terrible indicator of success but I don’t think there’s anyway Timmy Jim has a remote shot at the Hall.

    • Baseball Beer Burritos In That Order - Jul 14, 2013 at 6:17 PM

      Didn’t read most of the article because Matthew insists on discussing pitcher wins, but yeah, Timmy has a better shot at mayor of SF than the Hall. Which is a shame, the game was a lot more interesting before he started losing velocity.

  2. cohnjusack - Jul 14, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    I don’t know what would be so interesting about his case. If he stays on his current track of being not-so-hot, he’d be another in a long line of pitchers who had great starts and flamed out.

    His first 5 years, he put up 25.6 WAR. Very nice…but what about the first five years of…

    Dwight Gooden: 29.2 WAR
    Fernando Valenzuela: 21.6 WAR
    Orel Herhiser: 26 WAR
    Dave Stieb: 32 WAR
    Kevin Appier: 30.3 WAR
    BIlly Pierce: 22 WAR
    Roy Oswalt: 24.4 WAR

    Those are just the ones I wanted to look up off the top of my head!

    Obviously Tim is just 29 and has plenty of time to turn things around, but on his current path, his hall case isn’t really interesting at all.

    • heyblueyoustink - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:10 AM

      He’ll just have to be satisfied with the ” High Times ” Hall of Fame.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      It was a bit easier to rack up WAR in the old days. Since 1990, the only pitchers to top Lincecum’s first five seasons in rWAR are Appier, Webb (27.9) and Hudson (26.8). There might be a couple more too lopping off partial first seasons.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        Using second through fifth seasons — trying to get rid of some of that 20-inning or 50-inning rookie noise — Lincecum ranks second since 1990:

        Appier: 25.8
        Lincecum: 23.3
        Hudson: 22.9
        Kershaw: 22.9
        Webb: 21.6
        Zito: 19.8
        Radke: 19.8
        Oswalt: 19.7
        Zambrano: 19.2
        Mulder: 19.1

        Not exactly a great list to be on. Excluding Kershaw, Hudson has the best HOF shot and Lincecum is the only other possibility.

  3. papacrick - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Denny McLain is a doushe. I got in a fight with him three days ago at the gym in my country club. Didn’t know it was him till after the exchange but certainly glad his entitled ass didn’t make the HOF

    • aceshigh11 - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      Are you serious?

      • sdbunting - Jul 14, 2013 at 2:18 PM

        Of course not. Have you seen McLain lately? Ain’t no way he was at a gym.

  4. Gardenhire's Cat - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    “If Lincecum can pitch another 10 years and match Hershiser with something close to that 106-86 record, he should have a better shot”

    Matt, there is no way that Lincecum averages just 2.2 wins a year if he plays another ten.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      I meant another 100 wins in him. If he can hang on and mix in some above average seasons with average ones. He needs to have some more sub-4.00 ERA seasons left in his arm.

    • paperlions - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      Apparently cats are as good at math as they are at spelling.

  5. Matthew Pouliot - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Or I guess I could have mentioned the other possibility: Lincecum goes Dennis Eckersley on us and racks up a couple of hundred saves as a reliever. That might actually be better for his candidacy than lasting as a solid No. 3 starter.

    • jayscarpa - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:42 AM

      This is a great idea.

  6. sisqsage - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    His fave catcher in the really good years, Benjie Molina, told Timmy he would have to recreate himself after his second Cy Young because the hitters would make the right adjustments to counteract his wicked changeup that had them swinging toward the dirt for strike 3. Lincecum is starting to do that now. He’s actually had several good starts this year, and admitted last night he is focusing on being a different pitcher out of necessity. So he is doing the right things to prolong his career. I would look to the rest of this season and next year to see if he can be another 15-20 game winner again as the New Timmy. He is only 29 and competes like hell, so he has that going for him too. He still needs to cleanup parts of his game that he could get away with before (holding runners on at first base better). The ill-timed brain fade is just part of being Timmy (old and new) that will always be there. Regardless of what happens, Timmy will always be loved for being the link that bridged the Giants from the Bonds era into the current one (two World Series wins). Only a great pitcher could have done that (without a great offense to back him up no less).

  7. eagles512 - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:56 AM

    No chance unless he somehow finds his velocity again

  8. rvnc - Jul 14, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    I would say Lincecum was probably the most exicting pitcher in the game during his first few seasons. Mid 90s velocity, and four genuine strikeout pitches, plus that famously violent delivery made him thrilling to watch and he deserved all the accolades he recieved during those years. Unfortunately Tim isn’t that guy anymore, and whilst last night was a wonderful performance, he cannot be relied upon for consistent performance. For me, Tim is a bit like Barry Zito, in that he is still capable of producing superb starts, but over the course of a season he levels out as a mediocre starter at best, and may well move to the bullpen within the next three seasons or so.

    As far as HOF goes, the benchmark established for selection is for players to be great over the course of a career, or the best part of it. Tim has had four outstanding, historic years, and may well reinvent himself as a solid pitcher in the years to come, but his elite days are over. His strikeout numbers by the end may well end up to be legendary, but the other numbers will not. Which is a shame.

  9. orangandblack - Jul 14, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Slow news day? This isn’t even debatable. He’s been mediocre at best for 3 years now. His team opted to not use him as a starter in the playoffs. Yeah, sure sounds like a HOF’er to me

  10. Brinke - Jul 14, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    His first two-three years, Lincecum just TOYED with hitters. Most dominating pitcher I’ve ever seen in that time. But yeah, he’s a goner. No way his ego lets him take a pay cut (shoulda signed that big deal, eh?) and the G’s know it.

  11. mianfr - Jul 14, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    My guess has always been that Lincecum would be like Saberhagen, with a phenomenal early start that kind of got sidetracked as he hung around long enough to stay relevant but not at a high enough level to really be interesting.

    I checked the similarity scores on BB-Ref and surprisingly he wasn’t even a top ten comparable, but Brandon Webb was his number one, which I find kind of believable despite the different paths their careers took from stardom to being merely memorable names.

    Still am really glad he got a no-no; he absolutely was my favorite pitcher in the league his first four seasons.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 14, 2013 at 4:03 PM

      Yeah, Sabes isn’t a bad comp. The reason they don’t show up together on B-ref is that Sabes debuted at 20 and Lincecum came up at 23.

      Sabes also had that odd year-even year thing going on. He was worked so hard when he was at his best that he needed a year to recover afterwards.

      • mianfr - Jul 14, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        Good point, that would do it.

        A simpler, more dangerous time…

  12. norvturnersneck - Jul 14, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Lots of ifs for him. No where near HoF now.

  13. shzastl - Jul 14, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Pretty sure he started NLCS game 4 last year.

  14. shzastl - Jul 14, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    And got shelled, in fact, taking the L.

  15. brimab - Jul 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    I’m sure glad the Mariners passed on him in the draft. That crazy motion of his is going to cause him to break down before he ever has a chance of accomplishing anything in the bigs.

    • Reflex - Jul 14, 2013 at 4:43 PM

      Yeah, cause Brandon Morrow has done so much more for the team since 2006 than Lincecum would have….

      ….oh wait…

    • cofran2004 - Jul 15, 2013 at 9:11 AM

      Yeah, the mariners have been dominant since the passed on Lincecum. And they Giants…. they haven’t won anything. Good call there, chief.

      Do some of you even think before you post?

  16. onbucky96 - Jul 14, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    If Timmy gets in, will America finally let Timmy smoke?

  17. hojo20 - Jul 14, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Lincecum will NEVER make the HOF.

  18. Last Road Reviews - Jul 15, 2013 at 1:24 AM

    No not really. He was great the first couple of years. Mediocre since. If players got into the HOF based on a couple of seasons they’d be out of room.

    Unless he some how gets back on track he’s nothing but an average pitcher with flashes of brilliance. The way his career seems to be going zero chance.

    Not sure the point of this article. Slow day?

    • cofran2004 - Jul 15, 2013 at 9:12 AM

      it got you to comment, didn’t it? so clearly, you read it

      • Last Road Reviews - Jul 15, 2013 at 12:38 PM

        Only read the first paragraph.

  19. joenash72 - Jul 15, 2013 at 2:32 AM

    His problem is that he cut his hair. Needs to grow it long again.

    • cofran2004 - Jul 15, 2013 at 9:14 AM

      his center of gravity may be off. that was a hefty hairdo…

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