Thursday, June 15, 2006

Lincecum: starter or reliever?

I have been seeing some Giants fan wonder if the Giants will use Lincecum as a starter or reliever. Part of this, I believe, is due to Dick Tidrow's comment on that "He's a fast mover who can pitch in either a starting or relief role." Part of it is because a lot of analysts pre and post draft have said that he is the draft pick most likely to be able to contribute to a team late 2006 season in a relief role. Part of it is because a number of analysts have compared him to a number of relievers, like Scot Shield, Francisco Rodriguez, and Billy Wagner. Lincecum himself compared himself to Huston Street, another reliever, in the above link. Plus some have pointed out his potential arm abuse and say why fight conventional wisdom.

Dave Cameron of USS Mariner Didn't Like the Pick

There are two major reasons why Dave Cameron of USS Mariner didn't care to draft Lincecum so early in the first round - he thought late 1st round was best. One was he thought Lincecum had bad mechanics. Which made him a big risk for an early pick. Another was Lincecum's pitching abuse at UW. I forgot where I saw this but someone has a site with college stats with PAP (BP's Pitcher's Abuse Points; sum of square of pitches above 100 thrown by a pitcher in a game) calculated and Lincecum's has been obscene the past two seasons, something like 400,000 in 2006, 250,000 in 2005, where most pitchers are under 100,000 and most are much under 100,000.

In general, over-using a pitcher, particularly a college one, is not a good sign at all, but as Leo Mazzone showed with the Braves, he emphasized throwing more often in order to build up the arm strength. And that is the key with Lincecum, this is something Lincecum's dad taught him to do and he's probably been doing this since he was in t-ball. He wouldn't be able to throw so much in between starts and not have his arm fall off by now AND still throw in the high 90's late in the game, if his arm could not take it. I mean, my god, he doesn't even ice his arm after the game, he is as he was quoted as saying, he's a freak of nature.

Cameron thinks that the arm abuse, his small stature, and his bad mechanics make him a poor risk for such an early pick, why hope that he's the rare pitcher who can take such abuse, when you can pick other pitchers just as talented but with no issues. I think the key signs that he's unique and thus need to be considered differently is: 1) being able to throw in the high 90's late in the game, 2) not needing to ice his arm after games, and 3) he can long throw the next day without any problem. He's like that old story I used to read about how a farm boy comes to his first baseball game and flings the ball over the fence, wowing the team: sometimes these types of guys fall out of the tree and you just have to thank your lucky stars you got to him first.

Lincecum: Starter or Reliever?

I have no doubts that the Giants view him as a starter. There are a number of reasons some people question this. One is because there were analysts who before the draft said that Lincecum is the most likely to be able to contribute to a major league team this season and so the people who are analyzing the Giants draft picked up on this and question what the Giants will do with Lincecum. Plus Tidrow did say that he could start or relieve, without clarifying that. And another commenter, in the official Giants PR, noted that he could be an "exceptional closer."

No one drafts a reliever with the 10th pick of the draft and pays him $2-3M in bonus. He might eventually becomes one, but you shoot for the gusto with the 10th pick and start him. In addition, he has been compared to Roy Oswalt, who wouldn't want to have a dominating starter like that, particularly when we already have a number of closer prospects in Valdez, Accardo, and Wilson vying for the position. Voters for the Cy Young might be confused about the value of a starter vs. a closer but baseball teams are not, Benitez was one of the top closers on the market and still got about what a mediocre starter (Kris Benson) got. As well, in another article from the same news conference (in Chron), Tidrow did say that "the pitcher would ease into pro ball with limited pitch counts and extra rest between starts." Starts, not relief appearances.

Now, might the Giants use him as a reliever in September? I don't see why not as long as they are convinced, after seeing him pitch day in, day out, for one of our farm teams, and have our doctors examine him and convince themselves that he really is a freak of nature and can take all these pitches. Plus, they would need to feel that the bullpen needs a shot in the arm at the end of the year, you never know what happens, remember the year we got desperate and traded for an old Giants pitcher (was it Burba?) only to see HIM get injured in, like, the second game we got him and lose him.

That said, TINSTAAPP (There is no sucha thingy as a pitching prospect). But, to me, this is about as good as any pitcher a team could get at the top of the draft. There are no sure things, but there is a lot to like about Lincecum.

Why I like Lincecum

There are plenty of things to like about Lincecum:
  • It sounds like he was taught great mechanics already, despite what Cameron says. Another analyst noted, " Lincecum's stuff is as good as or better than any college pitcher in the draft. He throws a mid-90s fastball and an outstanding curve. A veteran scout that I spoke to rated Lincecum's fastball as a 7 (on the 1-8 scale the team uses) or a 70 (on the more traditional 20-80 range). He called Lincecum's curve and change-up a 6 and his pitchability a 65. "
  • He has trained his arm to be able to throw a lot of pitches and, as a result, a lot of innings. Innings eaters are very valuable, else mediocre pitchers who pitch a lot of innings wouldn't be getting $5-7M per year contracts.
  • He can throw 3-digit heat and keep the high 90's heaters going late into the game.
  • He has four quality pitches according to his coach and at minimum, two quality pitches is always mentioned, his fastball and his curveball (which is a lot like Cain's strength), with a good slider noted sometimes as well.
  • He doesn't need to ice his arm down after a start
  • He can throw - from "pole to pole" - the next day after a start - can we say "rubber arm"?
  • He has control problems, based on the number of walks he issued, but the same can be said about Matt Cain.

Hopefully he signs fast and with little fuss and we'll be good to go! According to his agents in the Chron article, they will start negotiating with the Giants "in a few days", so they should have started already. Kasey Kiker, who is a LHP from high school selected with the 12th pick, recently signed for $1.6M bonus, which is a little low for that pick from recent years, despite it being a high school player, who has greater leverage in negotiating since he can just go to school if he wished to.

So the Giants might not have to shell out as much as last year's #10 pick, Cameron Maybin, who got $2.65M from the Tigers, as he was from high school as well. Plus, as most analysts acknowledged, the talent in this draft was no where as strong as previous drafts, it was rated as the worst draft since 2000 in terms of strong talent up front, so the bonuses should not be as much as last year as well. As I said, hopefully he will sign soon, probably for around $2M (probably in the low $2M range).


  1. Martin:

    Okay, after watching games in Seattle over the last couple of days, I'm back to rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath at the age of our roster, an age "chosen" by our GM. I thought that maybe I could implore you to lighen my mood and remind me that our youngsters (while somewhat unheralded) are going to make the next generation of Giants a glorious one. Thanks.

    Hey, happy Father's Day. I'm off to Seattle with family and my young son to catch the Giants vs. Mariners. May they avoid a sweep. It's my son's first professional baseball game.


  2. Hi Kent,

    Sorry it didn't work out - the sweep that is - but hopefully the rest of your father's day was great. At least the game was exciting for Giants fans in the first few minutes when Ellison hit that homer.

    How did your son do at the game? My children were excited for about one inning then spent the rest of the game talking with the people in the seats next to us, luckily they were very tolerant else we would have left the game really early.

    Age can be viewed two ways: perhaps the Giants aren't old enough. A study by The Hardball Times (I think, or was it BP? Naw, couldn't be BP, they would never say a kind word about Sabean...) showed that the value of a player dropped, as expected, as players entered their 30's but then took an unexpected spike in their mid-to-late 30's. So they theorized that Sabean identified this inefficiency of the market and took advantage of it.

    Look at the past record of it. His worst free agent acquisitions were generally the younger players, like Neifi, Alfonzo, Durham, whereas the older players like Santiago, Grissom, Alou, Vizquel, Fassero, were much better pickups. Maybe he would have been better off acquiring even older players?

    That said, you're singing to the choir, I'm still wondering why the Giants didn't pick up Vlad, he would have been the rock of the franchise the past 3 seasons, with RBI's galore batting behind Bonds.

    The Next Generation Giants should make the next generation of Giants a glorious one. And it might not be the big names (for us) of Lowry and Cain, it could come from Sanchez, Joaquin, Griffin, Lincecum, etc. As much as I have loved the long ball, from McCovey and Bobby Bonds, to Dave Kingman, to Jack Clark, to Jeffrey Leonard, to Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell, to Matt Williams, and lastly to Barry Bonds, all through the disappointments I have seen in the playoffs for us and the successes other teams have had in the playoffs, I have come to the conclusion (which I plan on writing more on at some point in a post) that pitching is way more important than hitting for success in the playoffs, win shares or no win shares split of 50% batting, 30% pitching, 20% defense.

    Look at the Giants, shut down by mediocre pitchers like Gil Meche and Bobby Jones. How many times have we seen (and been crushed by) that?

    Look at successful teams in the past, as much as game winning homers has gotten the publicity, it is great pitching that seems to rule the day. Look at Arizona with their Unit/Schilling tandem running roughshod through the playoffs.

    With a relentless focus on pitching, the Giants should be able to put together a stellar group of pitchers, TINSAAPP or not. The current team in place seems to know pitching talent, look at finds like Accardo (undrafted free agent) and Sanchez, which will go along with the first round picks like Lowry, Cain, and Hennessey, to create a great starting rotation and great bullpen.

    Look at the idiocy of the marketplace, valuing a Loaiza and Byrd and Jeff Weaver at $7M and more, the Giants will have cheap and productive pitchers coming out of their pores over the near future, all built despite the cry over lost/forgone first round draft picks, which are all lottery picks, as I showed in my recent post. This will free up a lot of money to acquire elite free agents instead of the makeshift free agents we have been getting.

    In addition, the Giants have a number of position players who look ready to contribute in the next few years: Frandsen, Ishikawa, Ortmeier, Linden, Lewis, Schierholtz, EME, and maybe Sanders, Sandoval. In all there are 10 potential position starters that a national prospect book sees in our system, we just need a few hits there and then we can fill the rest via free agency (we already have Winn and Matheny in our fold for the near future, so we only have 6 more spots to fill, maybe 2-3 via prospects, 2-3 via free agency).

    And all these prospects become fodder for trades as the cup, hopefully, starts to runneth over, where our lower tier prospects who are still nonetheless good (vision of future, not now) get us other pieces to fill out the rest of the roster.

    Does that cheer you up or not? :^)


  3. Also, the Giants are only 2 games out, so stop worrying already. As Sabean has shown before, if things get good, he'll make a blockbuster trade or two to bring home the bacon.

    Meanwhile, the rotation is shaping up pretty well, except for Lowry, the bullpen is looking pretty good, except for Worrell, and as much as the offense is derided, the main problem appears to be when Bonds and/or Alou rests, but in the playoffs, Bonds and Alou will not be resting any games. Vizquel and Winn has been as expected, though streaky. Durham has been good when healthy. Feliz has been good when streaky but he appears to be learning to take pitches better than before though still bad habit of swinging without forethought. And Finley has been a great "9th" starter.

    1B is the main exception to the offense, though Niekro started hitting but then got injured once again. I hope this is an area Sabean is looking to upgrade, perhaps Phil Nevin will be available on the cheap when Derrek Lee comes off the DL, or do they have any space in the OF for him?



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