Here is a link to my Friday column about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. The full text runs below.
So, how do you like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain now?
It was all praise about them in spring training. How they were throwing the ball great. How they had lost speed on their heaters but that was a natural evolution in the career of every elite pitcher.
Speed loss was strictly no problem because they had learned how to pitch, how to nibble the corners, how to use the entire plate. How to be the star hurlers — artists — the Giants need and always build their team around.
Timmy and the Cainer. Forty percent of the Giants’ starting rotation. Everything under control.
Sure, they “underperformed” in 2013. “Underperformed” is a euphemism for stunk out the joint. Both had losing records and their earned run averages were stratospheric. Of 43 National League starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA list, Cain was No. 34, Lincecum No. 38. But as I say, that was so last year, ancient history, strictly an aberration.
Everything would be different this season. The Giants were sold on Lincecum, gave him a solid-gold contract — $35 million for two seasons. It’s always nice when a team has confidence in a pitcher. Cain already was working on his own solid-gold contract — six years, $127.5 million through 2017.
That’s how to lock up two superstars.
It’s just that Lincecum and Cain are again “underperforming” this season, as in stinking out the joint. Imagine that. Forgive me for citing some statistics. Bad statistics can be so inconvenient for the parties concerned.
You know how Lincecum had a losing record last season and a crummy ERA? Funny thing, he has a losing record this season and a crummy ERA, 9.90, which happens to be the worst ERA in the National League for starting pitchers. Well, it was the worst before the start of play on Thursday. It doesn’t even read like an ERA. It’s more like a stock price.
Pretty much ditto for the Cainer. He has a losing record and his ERA, 5.73, ranked 38th out of 50 in the National League before Thursday’s games.
Which means — certainly seems to imply — 2013 was not an aberration for Lincecum or Cain. It’s exactly what they do and who they are and what we should expect. An aberration would be if they actually could pitch up to their salaries, if they could win lots of games, if they could keep the freaking ball in the park. Lincecum has given up four home runs in two starts, Cain three. With these two, it’s strictly bombs away.
Please don’t think for a minute Lincecum and Cain are the exact same pitcher. They are not. They have achieved early misery taking two entirely different routes.
Lincecum, with that complicated delivery containing a million moving parts, can’t put the ball where he wants to. Buster Posey calls for the pitch high and inside. Lincecum throws it low and outside. Every pitch for Lincecum is an adventure, so many balls in the dirt. Batters wait on him to throw a strike and, when he throws a strike, they murder him. Bye bye, baby.
Eyeball these stats. This season, 36.4 percent of his fly balls are home runs. That’s get-him-out-of-the-rotation awfulness. He has given up line drives more than 34 percent of the time batters make contact on him. That means they are killing his pitches.
Bad formula for Timmy.
Cain is a different story of being a flop. Like Lincecum, he lost his fastball. He used to throw 93 mph, but now he’s down to 91 tops. In the past, he benefited from Lincecum’s failure. Lincecum failed so spectacularly fans didn’t notice Cain had similar problems. Cain is out in the open now.
He has better control than Lincecum but his stuff isn’t any better. So, when he throws his stuff over the plate, batters crush it. In his second start, Cain gave up three big flies, as Duane Kuiper likes to say — not that he likes it when Cain owns the big flies. That second start was in L.A. against the Dodgers, Cain a home-run machine. Last season, almost 11 percent of his fly balls were home runs — not good. This season, he’s up to 21 percent. You find the relevant adjective.
Why should we think Cain or Lincecum suddenly will become elite pitchers? The trend is downward and the trend has a large sample size. The burden of proof is on them.
True, the Giants are hitting better than last season, hitting with power. Small sample size, but we’ll let that ride. Over the long haul of a baseball season, pitching matters most. The Giants know that.
A friend of mine said, “It’s the hoses that count.”
We’re talking hoses as in arms. If Lincecum and Cain can’t get their hoses under control, the Giants are going to get hosed.
As long as we’re discussing troubling trends, there’s Lincecum’s mustache.
Have you taken a look at that thing? Is it real?
It looks like he bought it at a party supply store and glued it on. No, that’s quite not it. It looks like a ferret took residence on his upper lip.
He goes out in public with that thing on.
Tim needs to shave it off. I’m not saying shaving off the ferret will make him a better pitcher. But it couldn’t hurt.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.