JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: Tim Lincecum

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2022 BBWAA Candidate: Tim Lincecum
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR Adj. S-JAWS W-L SO ERA ERA+
Tim Lincecum 19.5 23.9 21.7 110-89 1,736 3.74 104
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Tim Lincecum burned brightly but briefly. In a career that lasted just 10 major league seasons — the minimum to be included on a Hall of Fame ballot — and fewer innings than four of the eight enshrined relievers, Lincecum made four All-Star teams, pitched for three World Series winners, won two Cy Young awards, and threw two no-hitters. With his long hair, 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame, baby face, and unorthodox delivery, “The Freak” became one of the game’s most popular players, a cult hero in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Lincecum did all of this despite not pitching very well for the second half of that decade-long stretch (2007-16), though he certainly had his moments; both no-hitters and two of those World Series wins came when he was on the downslope of his brief career. What felled him wasn’t arm troubles but a degenerative condition in his hips, which compromised his range of motion and ability to generate power. Once his left hip labrum tore, he was too unstable to repeat his delivery, and his command suffered. The surprise wasn’t that his diminutive frame couldn’t withstand the physical toll of so many pitches and innings, but that he had dominated in the first place. Through it all, the Giants — and especially their fans — remained loyal to him, willing to give him a shot at recapturing the magic for just about as long as he was upright.

Lincecum was born in Bellevue, Washington on June 15, 1984, which makes him the youngest candidate on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, younger than Prince Fielder by about five weeks. His mother, Rebecca Asis, is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, which made Lincecum the first ethnically Filipino player to win one of baseball’s major awards. His father, Chris Lincecum, was a Boeing parts-distribution employee who himself had starred as a pitcher for Green River Community College in the early 1970s before a fall down a 20-foot embankment broke his back. Comparable in size to Tim, he pitched semiprofessionally using similarly unconventional mechanics, which he based upon watching Sandy Koufax’s delivery (albeit as a right-hander). He claimed to have thrown 88 mph at age 52.

Chris Lincecum taught those mechanics to both of his boys, Sean (older by about four years) and Tim. The latter was just five years old when the lessons began, and by age eight, he had learned the curveball grip that he used in the majors.

“My dad and I aren’t very large guys, so it’s about efficiency and getting the most out of my body that I can,” Tim told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2008. “He learned that, and I’m a modified version of that. He was the prototype, and I’m version 2.0.”

Lincecum was just 4-foot-11 and 85 pounds when he pitched as a freshman at Liberty High School, then 5-foot-2 and 100 pounds as a sophomore and, after a growth spurt, 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds as a junior. “By the time he entered college, fresh off a senior season in which he was named Washington’s 2003 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 48th round (he turned down their offer), Lincecum stood all of 5’9″, 135 pounds,” wrote Verducci. “And he threw a baseball 94 miles per hour.”

University of Washington coach Ken Knutson first met Lincecum as a junior in high school when a former Husky brought him to a practice. “He was sawed off,” Knutson recalled in 2008. “He looked like he was 9.”

After watching him pitch, Knutson was sold nonetheless, though before Tim accepted a full scholarship, his father made the Huskies coaches promise they wouldn’t change his mechanics. Lincecum went 30-13 with a Pac-10 record 491 strikeouts in three years at Washington. Draft-eligible as a 21-year-old sophomore in 2005, he was chosen by Cleveland, albeit in the 42nd round because of his seven-figure bonus demands; the team tried to sign him after he led the Cape Cod League with a 0.69 ERA, but wouldn’t meet his asking price (reportedly, he wanted $1 million, and the team offered $700,000). He returned to Washington for his junior year and won his second straight Pac-10 Conference pitcher of the year award while posting a 1.94 ERA with 199 strikeouts, the most in NCAA Division I. He won the Golden Spikes Award and was chosen with the 10th pick of the 2006 draft by the Giants, who signed him to a $2.025 million bonus.

“The arm speed, the hand speed, the length of his stride — I was blown away,” Giants executive Dick Tidrow, a former major league pitcher, told ESPN’s Tim Keown in 2009. “There were a lot of things going on, but basically I liked all of them.”

As Keown described Lincecum’s delivery:

The delivery, all 2.5 funky, forceful seconds of it, is a continuous, liquid motion that showcases Lincecum’s athleticism 100 times a game. It’s the creation of his father, who emphasized three fundamentals: 1) “tilt” — the turn of Tim’s shoulders toward the third base dugout, forcing him to pick up the target out of the corner of his left eye; 2) “dangle” — the downward thrust of his right arm as he turns toward home plate; and 3) “reach” — the violent forward propulsion that creates a stride that exceeds his height and raises the real possibility that Lincecum might someday spike himself in the back of the head with his right foot.

More from Verducci:

The quickness of Lincecum’s small body is what scared off most scouts—that and what has become something of a trademark, a tilting of his head toward first base in the early phase of his delivery. The scouts equated his body speed with violence. That assessment, however, is akin to watching the Blue Angels air-show team and not seeing the precision because of a fixation with the implicit danger. Lincecum generates outrageous rotational power—the key element to velocity—only because his legs, hips and torso work in such harmony.

…Where Lincecum truly separates himself from most pitchers is the length of his stride. It is ridiculously long as it relates to his height. And just as his left foot, the landing foot, appears to be nearing the ground at the end of his stride, he lifts it as if stepping over a banana peel—extending his stride even more. The normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum’s stride is 129%, or roughly 7 1/2 feet.

Lincecum did not spend long in the minors. He began his career at Low-A Salem-Keizer, where he struck out 10 in four innings while allowing just one hit. Moved up to High-A San Jose, he struck out 48 while posting a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 innings. In all, he’d struck out 58 of the 122 batters he faced (47.5%). Baseball America placed him 11th on their Top 100 Prospects list, and invoked comparisons to a right-handed Koufax, Kevin Brown, Bob Feller, and Kerry Wood while raving about his 91-96 mph fastball, hammer curveball, and the deception in his delivery. But the publication also sounded a cautionary note:

He can suffer through bouts with his command because of all the moving parts in his delivery. Lincecum logged 342 innings in his three seasons at Washington, frequently exceeding 120 pitches per start. While he claims to have never felt soreness in his arm, some scouts believe he’s a breakdown waiting to happen. San Francisco doesn’t share those fears, believing he generates his power through leverage and not by overtaxing his arm.

Lincecum began the 2007 season at Triple-A Fresno, where he continued to blow hitters away. In five starts totaling 31 innings, he allowed just 12 hits while striking out 46 and walking just 11. The Giants recalled him on May 6 to start against the Phillies. The results were rough, as the 23-year-old righty struggled to throw strikes; he walked five, gave up five hits, and charged with five runs in 4.1 innings.

Five days later, at Coors Field, it was a different story, as Lincecum pitched seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out six. On May 17, he struck out 10 Astros while allowing just one unearned run in seven innings. On July 1, he struck out 12 Diamondbacks in seven innings without a walk or a run. In 24 starts totaling 146.1 innings, he stuck out 150 with a 4.00 ERA (112 ERA+).

For as impressive as his rookie season was, nothing could have prepared the baseball world for his 2008 breakout. On a team that went just 72-90, Lincecum went 18-5, striking out a National League-high 265 in 227 innings while allowing just 11 homers. He had nine double-digit strikeout games, tied with Wood (1998), Oliver Pérez (2004) and, later, José Fernández (2016) for the most by any pitcher 25 or younger during the Wild Card era. His 2.62 ERA placed second in the league behind Johan Santana’s 2.53, but his 168 ERA+, 2.62 FIP, and 7.8 WAR all ranked first. He made his first All-Star team and was the runaway winner of the NL Cy Young award, beating out Brandon Webb and Santana, who owned three Cy Youngs between them.

In 2008, Lincecum trimmed his walk rate, ranked second in the league with a 2.48 ERA and led the circuit in FIP (2.34), strikeouts (261), and WAR (7.4). The Giants improved to 88 wins, and though they still finished four games out in the Wild Card chase, it was their first winning season since 2004. Again Lincecum was an All-Star, and he won a very tight three-way vote for the Cy Young; Adam Wainwright got more first-place votes (12 to Lincecum’s 11), but finished third with 90 points behind Cardinals teammate Chris Carpenter (90 points), allowing Lincecum (100) to take home the hardware despite having the fewest wins (15) of the trio.

After the season, while driving on Interstate 5 in Washington just north of the Oregon border, Lincecum was pulled over for speeding and discovered to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana (3.3 grams) and drug paraphernalia (a pipe), both misdemeanors. He pled not guilty; in January, the charges were reduced to civilian infractions, and he was ordered to pay a $513 fine, plus the speeding ticket. Far from a scandal, the situation endeared him to Giants fans, bolstering his countercultural credibility. “Let Timmy Smoke” t-shirts and bumper stickers became popular, and he even inspired a parody cover of High Times (he later received prominent mention in a real piece at the magazine on the disparate marijuana testing policies across the minor and major leagues).

The matter didn’t hinder the Giants from signing Lincecum to a two-year, $23 million extension in February 2010. Though he made the All-Star team and led the NL in strikeouts for a third straight season with 231, his ERA rose to 3.43 due to higher walk and homer rates, and his WAR sank to 3.3; he received only passing mention in the Cy Young balloting. On a more positive note, the Giants went 92-70 and edged the Padres for the NL West flag. Lincecum opened the Division Series with the most dominant performance of his major league career, shutting out the Braves on two hits and one walk while striking out 14 in a 1-0 victory.

Lincecum turned in a pair of seven-inning, three-run performances in the NLCS against the Phillies, winning Game 1 but losing Game 5, then came out of the bullpen for a brief appearance while protecting a one-run lead in Game 6; though he allowed hits to two of the three batters he faced, Brian Wilson got Carlos Ruiz to line into a double play, then closed out the Phillies in the ninth to secure the pennant.

Lincecum picked up wins in Games 1 and 5 in the World Series against the Rangers, slogging through the opener but delivering eight strong innings before Wilson got the final outs to make the Giants champions for the first time since 1954. Lincecum completed the postseason with a 4-1 record, 2.43 ERA, and 43 strikeouts in 37 innings.

League-worst offensive support (2.8 runs per start) disguised Lincecum’s 2011 rebound somewhat, as he went just 13-14, though his 220 strikeouts ranked third in the league, his 2.74 ERA fifth, and his 3.7 WAR seventh. He made the NL All-Star team for the fourth straight season, but it turned out that would be his last time.

The Giants didn’t know this at the time, of course, and with Lincecum less than a year from free agency, they signed him to a two-year, $40.5 million extension. But his season got off on the wrong foot, as he was hammered for 16 runs in 13.2 innings over his first three starts in 2012, and finished the first half with a 3-10 record and a 6.42 ERA. He was still striking out more than a batter per inning, but his velocity was down, and his command was off; his walk rate soared, and he was hit hard. He righted himself somewhat with a 7-5 record and a 3.83 ERA in the second half, lowering his final mark to 5.18, but finished far below replacement level (-1.7 WAR).

Lincecum had lost nearly two ticks on his average fastball velocity (93.0 mph in 2011 to 91.3 in ’12, via Pitch Info) and over three from his peak (3.2 mph in 2008); via PITCHf/x, he didn’t touch 95 mph all season, compared to 149 times the year before, and 1,004 times in 2008.

The Giants won the NL West despite Lincecum’s troubles, but even with his solid second half, manager Bruce Bochy decided he had a strong enough postseason rotation with Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Barry Zito, leaving Lincecum in the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. The gambit worked; in five relief appearances totaling 13 innings across three rounds, Lincecum allowed just three hits, two walks and one run while striking out 17. He got the win in Game 4 of the Division Series against the Reds with a 4.1-inning, six-strikeout, one-run relief appearance after an abbreviated Zito start. He did make one start, and was knocked around for four runs in 4.2 innings in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, putting the Giants into a three-games-to-one hole from which they escaped without his help. In the World Series against the Tigers, he had a pair of hitless, 2.1-inning stints in victories in Games 1 and 3, retiring 14 out of 16 batters, eight by strikeout. The Giants swept the series, claiming their second championship in three years.

Shorn of his shoulder-length locks, and having added a few pounds of muscle at the Giants’ behest, Lincecum was a bit better in 2013. He struck out 193 in 197.2 innings, cut down on his walks, and lowered his ERA to 4.37, but even that was good for just a 79 ERA+, and was still below replacement level (-0.5 WAR). He did no-hit the Padres on July 13 in San Diego, a Herculean 148-pitch effort in which he struck out 13 and walked four; even today, nobody else has thrown as many pitches in a single outing over the past 11 seasons.

Optimistic that Lincecum’s continued tweaks to his mechanics and delivery gave him a good shot at rebounding, the Giants signed him to a two-year, $35 million extension even before the 2013 World Series began. It was a pay cut, albeit with a higher average annual value than the deals any of that winter’s free agent pitchers except Masahiro Tanaka landed.

Lincecum no-hit the Padres for the second time in less than a year on June 25, 2014, this time striking out just six, walking one, and throwing a comparatively efficient 113 pitches. In doing so, he became the second pitcher to no-hit the same team twice; Hall of Famer Addie Joss did so against the White Sox in 1908 and ’10. The no-hitter was part of a four-start run over which Lincecum allowed just one run in 30.1 innings, lowering his ERA from 4.90 to 3.66, but that success proved fleeting. In late August, he was sent to the bullpen; he pitched just 10.1 innings after August 23 and finished with a 4.71 ERA and -1.1 WAR.

The Giants still managed to win 88 games and qualify for the playoffs as the visiting team for the NL Wild Card Game. Lincecum wasn’t included on the roster as the Giants beat the Pirates, and despite being included on both the NLDS and NLCS rosters, he was the only Giant who didn’t play. He did throw 1.2 perfect innings in Game 2 of the World Series against the Royals, but left with tightness in his lower back and wasn’t called upon again during the seven-game series, which the Giants won behind the heroics of Bumgarner.

Despite unspectacular walk and home run rates, Lincecum began the 2015 season with some promise, putting up a 2.08 ERA and 3.28 FIP over his first eight starts, including three scoreless turns in a four-start run to begin May. His performance soon deteriorated, however; over his next seven turns, he was hit for a 7.53 ERA, and failed to escape the second inning twice in a row in late June. The second time was because he was hit on the forearm by a DJ LeMahieu line drive. The contusion sent him to the disabled list, but the Giants soon discovered that he was dealing with a degenerative condition in his hips. In September, he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip and shave down a bone buildup to alleviate an impingement. As the Bay Area News Group’s Andrew Baggarly explained:

Lincecum wasn’t dealing with pain in his hips the past few years as much as stiffness. Because he employs an extreme range of motion in his delivery to generate power, he relied on a healthy, spongy labrum to provide stability. When that labrum became damaged, he had to start whipping his whole body around to get over his left leg. Regardless of any mechanical tweaks he made to compensate, instability in the hip made it almost impossible to repeat his motion.

Lincecum hit free agency while recovering from surgery. After throwing a 41-pitch showcase for more than 20 teams on May 6, 2016, he signed a major league deal with the Angels, with a prorated $2.5 million base salary and a potential $1.7 million in incentives. He made his season debut on June 18 with six innings of one-run ball against the A’s, but his fastball averaged just 88.8 mph. Hitters soon caught on; he was lit for a 9.16 ERA while averaging about 4.1 innings per start over nine turns. In August, he was designated for assignment, and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Salt Lake City, where he managed a 3.76 ERA and 8.7 strikeouts per nine in 38.1 innings; even so, he didn’t get a September call-up.

Though Lincecum sought a job for 2017, and reportedly drew some interest, he didn’t sign anywhere. In December 2017, he was reported as working out at Driveline Baseball. He threw for between 15 and 20 teams in mid-February, touching 93 mph with his fastball. About three weeks later, he signed a $1 million-plus-incentives major league deal with the Rangers, and switched his uniform number to 44, to honor brother Sean, who passed away on February 22, 2018. Blisters delayed the start of his season, forcing him to the injured list. He began a rehab stint with Triple-A Round Rock in May, but after pitching to a 5.83 ERA with nine walks and 10 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, the Rangers released him. He never officially retired, but he didn’t pitch again, done before his 34th birthday.

Lincecum won’t be the first pitcher to win multiple Cy Young awards but wind up on the outside looking in when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Currently there are five retired pitchers with multiple awards but no bronze plaque (not that it’s necessarily merited) as well as five active ones:

Multiple Cy Young Award Winners Outside the Hall of Fame
Pitcher Cy Youngs WAR
Roger Clemens 7 139.2
Clayton Kershaw* 3 71.9
Justin Verlander* 2 71.8
Max Scherzer* 3 67.1
Bret Saberhagen 2 58.9
Johan Santana 2 51.7
Jacob deGrom* 2 43.4
Corey Kluber* 2 33.6
Tim Lincecum 2 19.5
Denny McLain 2 19.3
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = active

Though Santana offers a recent point of reference, Lincecum’s career has more in common with that of McLain, who also only pitched in the majors 10 years and likewise won Cy Youngs in his ages 24 and 25 season (1968 and ’69). McLain also won the AL MVP award in 1968 while helping the Tigers to a championship, but between overuse (661 innings in 1968-69), off-the-field recklessness — including involvement in a gambling ring, which led to a suspension — and poor conditioning, he was done in professional baseball before turning 30. He wasn’t exactly beloved, either.

Lincecum, on the other hand, still occupies an outsized place in the hearts of fans, particularly those of the Giants, for whom he represents the transition from the Barry Bonds era to their championship one. His career didn’t last long, but it was a special one, and nobody has seen another pitcher quite like “The Freak.”

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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CC AFCmember
2 years ago

Big Time Timmy Jim! First ballot Hall of Extremely Fun

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

I’ve love to have that sort of Hall of Fame. I imagine a wing for people who weren’t good enough for a plaque, but are still worth celebrating and remembering. If done properly, it could be a lot of fun.

2 years ago
Reply to  SirLancelittle

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych!

Psychic... Powerless...
2 years ago
Reply to  SirLancelittle

Dontrelle Willis comes to mind.

2 years ago
Reply to  SirLancelittle

So it’s not quite the same but there is something called “Shrine of the Eternals” which inducts players who had a major cultural impact beyond any sort of statistical measure. Some of the guys in it are Hall of Famers (Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra) and some really should be (Dick Allen) but a lot of the guys are the sorts of legends who are way, way under the mark. Guys like Fernando Valenzuela, Mark Fidrych, Curt Flood, JR Richard, Jim Abbott, and Bo Jackson are all in it. So is Steve Dalkowski and Bob Uecker. And Charlie Brown (yes, that Charlie Brown). And the guy who played the San Diego Chicken. It’s awesome.

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Honestly, I’m fine with guys like Timmy getting a look. It’s a Hall of Fame and not a Hall of WAR. Otherwise, we could just run a formula for induction, and forego voting altogether.

Guys like Lincecum are woven into the lore of the game. They’re the windups and batting stances that kids imitate on the playground. Do they need to stick around for 10 avg seasons after their prime is over just to pad their career totals? Do we prefer a HoF with Eddie Murray in it over Timmy or Johan Santana? Or Andruw Jones, possibly the best defensive CF of all-time? Of course, it’s all subjective and a matter of opinion.

Baltimore, Murraylandmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Stovokor

I’d prefer a HoF with Eddie Murray in it to a HoF without Eddie Murray in it. No need to throw Eddie Murray under the Timmy Jim bandwagon. Jeez.

2 years ago
Reply to  Stovokor

I honestly prefer guys like him who dominated a given era without longevity over guys who just had a long career

2 years ago
Reply to  jamesdakrn

I see what you’re saying… but he didn’t dominate a given era, unless you consider an era to be 4 seasons long. even then it was 2 monster seasons, followed by 2 pretty good ones. That’s not really a given era is it with respect to baseball?

I love Lincecum, extremely memorable pitcher due to his size and delivery. He’s a great story. But he’s not Hall of Fame worthy. Honestly, he’s not even in the Hall of Very Good. He’s more like the Hall of Really Bright Flash in the Pan That Injuries Snuffed Out.

2 years ago
Reply to  JohnHavok

Yeah I personally don’t think he’s a HoFer, definitely like you said he had 2 dominant seasons and 2 good ones

I do think Johan Santana deserves another look (I go back & forth on this), and Kevin Brown definitely should be in the hall

2 years ago
Reply to  Stovokor

Yes I do prefer a HOF with Eddie Murray over Lincecum and Santana. Dude was a rock churning out .300/30/100 seasons for 15 straight years (OK, did the actual math – .292/398/1,469 for 15 years from 1977-91). AS the other poster said, don’t throw Murray under the bus on this one. There are much better guys you could go after than Murray to make this point.

And Jones belongs in. Santana and Lincecum just don’t get there because of injuries. Happens a lot in pitching.

Baltimore, Murraylandmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Anon

The recent discussion over the disproportionate HoF love relievers get has really got me thinking positively about Santana, especially when you start lining him up against Koufax (whom he falls short of, but not by nearly as much as I thought he would). The good news is that HoF voters don’t have to pick which is more important, many years of greatness or an epic peak. They can go with both!