When Tim Lincecum pitched for the University of Washington between 2004-2006, he featured three pitches; a hard fastball, a big, loopy breaking-ball, and a rarely used change-up. Although small in stature, standing just 5-11 and weighing 165-pounds, there was nothing small about Tim's arm. He frequently topped out just shy of 100 mph, and sat comfortably in the mid 90s. His three-pitch combination was good enough to earn him Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year twice, and the 2006 Golden Spikes Award representing the nation's top collegiate baseball player.
Given his small body, big arm and taxing delivery, many scouts believed Lincecum would burn out far too quickly to be worthy of a top-10 draft pick. Fortunately for Giants fans, members of San Francisco's front office were not among them. Nine teams passed on Lincecum, including his hometown Seattle Mariners, who chose Bay Area product Brandon Morrow instead. Other notables selected in front of him are Evan Longoria and Clayton Kershaw.
Lincecum dazzled in his first season of pro-baseball. In eight starts, Tim allowed just six earned runs, while striking out 58 in 31.2 innings pitched. After only eight starts, he began the following season in Fresno, home of the Giants' AAA team. He went 4-0 in five starts, with a minuscule .29 era, and striking out 46 batters in 31 innings. He forced his way into the Giants' rotation.
His first taste of big league action did not go as planned. He finished his rookie year with a 7-5 record and a 4.00 era; a far cry from what Giants fans had expected of a pitcher who had always dominated in lesser competition.
Lincecum quickly realized that hitters at the major league level had one thing in common, they could handle the fastball. At this point in his career, Tim was more of a thrower than a pitcher. He had always succeeded just by blowing hitters away and never really had to sweat the small stuff. After his rookie year however, Lincecum was beginning to sweat.
Although his strikeout rate was still very high, so were his walks and earned runs. He had to adapt to the fact that hitters were more advanced than he had ever seen. He began tinkering with two new pitches, a split-finger fastball that would replace his original change-up, and a slider.
While the slider took some time to develop, the splitter was tough to hit ever since unveiling it in spring training.
His new repertoire of off-speed pitches kept hitters from getting their timing down, and when coupled with his fastball (which averaged 94 mph in 2008), he became devastatingly hard to hit.
That year, his first full season, Tim Lincecum won the National League Cy Young with an 18-5 record and impressive 2.62 era.
The following year, Lincecum had a new problem to attack. While his great fastball was always his go-to pitch, it also wore out his arm fairly early in games. While pitching in 227 innings over 34 appearances in 2008, Tim averaged 6.2 innings per game. He pitched two complete games all year.
In 2009, he began to take some velocity off of his fastball in the hope that it would allow him to go deeper into starts. Not only did he put less effort into every fastball, but he threw the pitch 10 percent less than the year before. The results were evident. He threw a league-high four complete games and two shutouts, while shaving .14 off his already incredibly earned run average. He also lasted longer in his average start and claimed his second consecutive National League Cy Young Award.
After having largely successful seasons in 2010 and 2011 where he was named an All-Star both years, Lincecum struggled mightily during the regular season of 2012.
Lincecum had an National League-worst 5.18 era and 15 losses, while pitching the highest walk rate of his career. Tim battled all season and wound up losing his starting job when the playoffs rolled around.
Lincecum was given the opportunity to pitch out of the bullpen and he quickly adapted to his new role. In six appearances through their World Series run, Lincecum went 1-1 with a 2.55 era. He provided the team with a boost of energy every time he made an appearance and made the most of a relatively bad situation.
General manager Brian Sabean spoke about his resiliency,
"If you look at how he embraced pitching out of the bullpen or, more so, how it relaxed him, he can build on that."
2013 could very well be looked back at as the most important year of Lincecum's career. Now in a contract year, his performance could dictate how much longer he will be dawning a Giants' uniform. He has made drastic changes to both his physical appearance and his training routine. He cut his hair, eliminated his unusual In-N-Out diet, and worked hard on fixing any mechanical flaws.
After his first spring start, Lincecum said (Per SFGate):
“Mechanically, I felt really good. The timing of my arm was good. I missed a couple of pitches up high, but it’s kind of because I wanted to. Besides that it wasn’t anything too far off from where I wanted to throw it. I know, talking earlier, my front leg was my big issue. I was falling off of it. I felt today once again it was there. I didn’t feel I was getting out of whack. I was still holding my mechanics.
“I think the difference coming into spring was knowing what I did in the off-season to be prepared for now. I kept saying over and over again there wasn't that question mark about whether my body was going to feel good or if I’m going to be able to hold up today or if today was going to be a mechanical issue day."
Now Lincecum is battling a blister on his throwing hand, which has prevented him from making his second start of the spring.
The key for Tim Lincecum to succeed in 2013 is to once again adapt to the problems he is facing. While he does not have to 'reinvent the wheel,' he does have to figure out how to deal with a dipping velocity and energy level.
Which Tim Lincecum will the Giants get in 2013? Only time will tell.