Tim Lincecum: To Extend Him or Trade Him?

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on September 25, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There has been some discussion across the internet of late about whether the Giants should trade ace starter Tim Lincecum, allowing the team to pursue a premium free agent this offseason. FanGraphs' Dave Cameron was the first to publish an article on trading Lincecum, which was followed by an article from Fox Sports Jon Paul Morosi. There is also talk that the Giants should sign him to a long term extension.

Here is how Cameron ended his article, where he suggests the Yankees package Jesus Montero and Eduardo Nunez for Lincecum:

By swapping out the final two years of team control they have over their star pitcher for a young hitter who could breathe life into their offense (and enough payroll flexibility to become the major player on the free agent scene this winter), the Giants could end up with a better overall team than they’d get by maintaining the status quo. Moving Lincecum might not be a popular move, but given the short supply of pitchers on the market this winter, his escalating price tag, and their status as a pitcher-generating-factory, it might just be the fastest way for the Giants to make themselves a World Series contender once again.

I like Cameron's reasons here, but agree that it would not be a very popular move amongst the Giants fanbase, but sometimes GMs have to make unpopular moves to ensure they field a consistent winner on the field. The Giants, like the Padres, play in a very pitcher friendly ballpark, and could put almost anyone in their rotation, except Barry Zito, and turn that pitcher into an average to above average starter. 

They can certainly use the boost to their inept lineup, and dealing Lincecum now, when teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers looking for starting pitching, could bring a very nice return.

More on extending/dealing Lincecum after the jump:

In addition to the possibility of adding a young hitter to energize the Giants offense, and using the money you would invest in Lincecum to further improve the lineup via free agency (i,e, Carlos Beltran or Jose Reyes), there is also a disturbing trend in his strikeout/walk rate. I discussed Tim Lincecum in my end of season review of my starting pitcher rankings, and here is an excerpt:

3. Tim Lincecum, SFG-Lincecum helped me win the NL-only UBA league this year after a mid-season trade, but he was not as dominant this season as he was in years past. He went 13-14 with a 2.74 ERA, 3.17 FIP and 3.36 xFIP, with a 1.21 WHIP, while striking out 220 and walking 86 in 217 innings of work. What concerns me with Lincecum, is his drop in K/9 and increase in BB/9 over the last few seasons. Take a look:

2008- 10.51 K/9/ 3.33 BB/9

2009- 10.42 K/9/ 2.72 BB/9

2010- 9.79 K/9/ 3.22 BB/9

2011- 9.12 K/9/ 3.57 BB/9

His 86 walks were the highest of his career, but there is nothing wrong with a starter who strikes out 9 batters per 9 and keeps the ball on the ground at a 48% rate. 

And I am not the only writer to address the increase in walks. Here is Baseball Nation's Rob Neyer:

What's most interesting, to me anyway, is that while Lincecum finished atop the list of Giants, he might actually have been their third-best pitcher this season.

Really?

Really.

The reasons to rank Lincecum first among those three? I mean, beside that he's Tim Lincecum? Well, he did finish with more strikeouts. And his ERA was the lowest, by a little. Otherwise, though?

Lincecum issued significantly more walks than either of the other guys. Lincecum gave up more home runs than either of the other guys. Is there any good reason for Lincecum to show up on six Cy Young ballots, compared to two for Cain and one for Bumgarner?

I am one to push the envelope at times and wonder if Lincecum has already seen his best years on the mound. Sure, he still strikes out 9 batters per nine innings, and keeps the ball on the ground around 48% of the time, but the increase in walk rate and extreme strand rate (78.5% in 2011) could be the start of a decline in his studly performance on the mound going forward. Looking at his BABIP, you can say that he has been lucky and that could change at some point. His BABIP has been below or right at league average in each of his 5 seasons in the big leagues.

Maybe it is the Dodgers fan in me that is focusing on the bad trends in Lincecum's peripheral stats, but like I mentioned above, sometimes teams need to make unpopular moves to improve the team on the field. And the Giants certainly need to improve their lineup in a big way.

Should the Giants trade Lincecum this offseason?

 

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