Bay Area Blues: What’s Wrong With Tim Lincecum?

Close to home, Ubaldo Jimenez has struggled mightily for the Tribe. After years of dominating in the most hitter-friendly park in the ML, the Dominican defector has underwhelmed on the shores of Erie, tallying up pedestrian stats for a middling ballclub. But laments concerning Jimenez’s performance seem trivial when measured against Giants “ace” and poster child of the West Coast antiestablishmentarian culture, Tim Lincecum.

How a player transitions from Cy Youngs and punchouts to criticism and punchlines is perplexing. Lincecum, diminutive and unorthodox, captivated Giants fans with his successes. Like a magician with an unsolvable trick, Lincecum’s whirling, corkscrewing mechanics bewilderingly retired batter after batter to the delight of Giants backers. Eschewing the science of economy, his getup is unadulterated art, an eccentric painter brushing his canvas with fastballs and curves.

If a bear attacks, common advice is to make yourself look big. Lincecum is fending off ursine aggression with each pitch, rearing his left leg back before a kinetic thrust towards the plate. His delivery brought home 2 consecutive Cy Young awards and 4 straight spots in the All-Star game. More standard instruction when a predator attacks: play dead. In 2012, Lincecum has been a welcome mat for opposing hitters.

Just how bad has Lincecum been this year? After his All-Star selection last year, his ERA at the All-Star break was 6.42, dead last among starters in the league. His record was 3-10. For these gaudy stats, Lincecum is making over twenty million dollars. That projects to over 3 million for each win. Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, who is 13-4 in 20 starts, is earning more then 40 times less then Lincecum, at $482,000.

Fortunes have flopped before, but Lincecum’s regression may be the most severe freefall in baseball history. One past precedent where an unconventional pitcher goes from unhittable to unplayable is the case of Dontrelle Willis. His rookie season, he won 14 games and led the Marlins to a World Series win, baffling opponents with his high kick. Like Lincecum, he was successful for about 4 years. In 2005, the apex of his career, Willis netted the Marlins 22 wins and a 2.63 ERA. Since a 2007 trade to the Detroit Tigers, Willis has won a total of 4 games in 53 starts, with an ERA above 5 each season. Signed and released by 6 different clubs since 2007, Willis announced his retirement earlier this month. Popular theory holds that once batters were acclimated to Willis’ unique delivery, the novelty quickly faded and Willis got shellacked.

The Hurler Formerly Known as Fausto Carmona carries a volatile track record, with his inconsistencies providing statistical peaks and valleys. His sophomore campaign in 2007 was a 19 win season, but Carmona went 1-10 in his rookie year. Carmona toiled again last year, posting a 7-15 record just two years after a 5-12 season. The rest of his years have been respectable, but nowhere near the mirage of dominance beget by his 2007 performance. Carmona struggled even more this offseason than during the regular season; he was busted for identity fraud, gaining 3 years overnight. Sure, he duped Indians scouts and the oraganization into signing and spending millions on him, but the Tribe got the last laugh, giving him three birthday cakes upon his return to compensate for lost time.

Lincecum’s trajectory has mirrored Willis’ more than Carmona’s in all arenas- except for a treasure trove of media fodder. His affinity for marijuana, belied by his image, was confirmed by a 2009 arrest for possession. 2009 also saw Lincecum appear on the cover of pot periodical High Times Magazine, holding a baseball printed with a marijuana leaf.  Tim further entrenched himself in a cannabis conundrum following the Giants 2010 World Series victory, when he was asked about how San Francisco is reacting to the victory. “A lot of beer flowing. Smoke in the air, I’m hoping.”

The remark sparked controversy in the national media, but it lit a flame under progressive fans who embarked on a popular T-shirt campaign pleading “Let Timmy Smoke.” Lincecum’s carefree attitude resonates with Giants backers, making him a fan favorite. His surfer aesthetic magnifies Bay Area ideals, almost an amalgam of local attitudes, the physical manifestation of the city.

So why have the wheels fell off? Giants staff don’t have definitive answers to the $40.5 million dollar question. Lincecum’s velocity on his fastball is down, a malady credited to losing weight after omitting In-N-Out Burger from his diet. He’s allowing more walks per inning then in previous years, highlighting control issues prevalent throughout the season.

San Franciso has struck it rich with a gold rush of offense, scoring a revitalized Melky Carbrera for Jonathan Sanchez, a starter who was demoted for pitching worse than Lincecum. NL All-Star starter Matt Cain and Giants compatriot Madison Bumgarner have shouldered the burden of Lincecum’s collapse and kept the Giants afloat and in contention. His career prospects are comatose on life support. The Giants have a difficult decision to make: Should they terminate the career of a fan favorite, or do nostalgia and monetary investment stop them from pulling the cord?


YOLO of the Week: Twitter Tags Yu, Freese for All-Star Births (and Why They Chose Them)

Arguably, the vote has surpassed the duel and the deathmatch as the most popular way of settling things. Election year means that (about 55% of) people act in their patriotic duty to make a choice and have a voice in the excellent (at evoking discontent) political staple, democracy. Though the presidential vote is in November, Twitter rocked the important vote on July 5th, exercising their right to hashtag guaranteed in the 1st Amendment and electing the final two participants in the 2012 MLB All-Star Game.

The tag #FreesePlease was an Ovaltine-esque campaign that carried St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese onto the National League squad. Freese rose to prominence during the 2011 World Series, hitting .545 with a playoff-record 21 RBIs and a Game 6 walkoff homer. Freese’s hot bat reduced Albert Pujols to discardable flotsam, casting the former MVP off to Los Angeles.

Freese has a checkered past preceding his sudden stardom. He quit baseball at one point in college, endearing to the slacker generation more likely to participate in a daytime Twitter vote than a government one. Freese’s blew a .232 in 2009 while driving in a St. Louis suburb, higher than the batting average of both of the team’s second base starters. Freese is hitting .285 on the season, eclipsing the Mendoza line on both the field and the road.

For a man whose name is is synonymous with chill, Freese is hot under the collar. His 2009 arrest violated a 2007 probation for “Public Intoxication plus Obstructing and Resisting an Officer.” And as a 19 year old, Freese earned his first DUI. That’s three strikes, but the catcher must have dropped the third one; the Cardinals enrolled Freese in a substance abuse program and he has been incident-free since 2009.

The creative hashtag may have added to Freese’s electability. His opponents (Aaron Hill #FinHillVote, Bryce Harper #Brycein12, and Michael Bourn #VoteBourn) went with less alliterative slogans. Freese is literally the William Henry Harrison of the All-Star vote.

Now that I closed with my strongest joke, an ode to 19th century politics, we can move on to the American League representative, who…actually isn’t an American at all. It’s Nipponese hurler Faridyu “Yu” Darvish, the Far-Eastern import who inked a 4.47 billion yen contract to practice his craft in Texas. Yu is also inking American headlines. He wore this shirt on his inaugural flight to Texas, a marijuana leaf with the words “I will survive” printed on it. Bee Gees fan? Flower Child? Medical Marijuana Bear Gryllis? The shirt caused quite a stir among the press, but raised more questions than answers.

And Yu was involved in another T-Shirt controversy, this time a shirt that he wasn’t even wearing. Teammate Mike Napoli attended a press conference wearing a “Yu is My Homeboy” shirt manufactured by a fan. As Deadspin  reports, since Yu wasn’t profiting on the shirts, his lawyers sued the guy selling them. Chinese basketball guard Jeremy Lin experienced a similar thing, with many shirts of questionable origin popped up online using “Linsanity” and “Linning” taglines. It seems the Far East just can’t appreciate a good cross-cultural pun.

Yu has the 2nd goofiest mug in this picture

The website is an eponymously curated site that found another media storm brewing around Yu. A Rangers analyst classified weak hits during a Darvish start as “a couple of chinkers” , provoking the incensed Asian-American running this site to highlight the questionable diction. This again parallels Lin’s ascension, when an ESPN staffer was fired for running the headline “Chink in the Armor” describing his turnover-laden play.

In Yu’s group of selectable AL pitchers, Jake Peavy (#TakeJake) had the catchy campaign, while the other eligible pitchers, Jonathan Broxton, Jason Hammel, and Ernesto Frieri, joined Darvish in running the conventional #Vote(Name) candidacy. The monumental outpouring of overseas support that got the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui and Red Sox pitcher Hideki Okajima voted into the game (in 2004 and 2007, respectively) with pedestrian stats likely boosted Darvish’s totals. The Chinese contingent voting for the NBA’s All-Star game picked Yao Ming in 2011, his 8th appearance. That year, Ming played in a grand total of 5 games and averaged 10 points per game, yet was nominated as the starting center for the West.

Not to suggest that Darvish’s stats weren’t worthy; he posted a decent 3.59 ERA with a strong 10 wins in the first half of the season. But his overseas support dwarfs the other choices, elevating him to a Godzilla-esque vote total.

By taking the vote to the tweeters, MLB acted like the hip league for once. America’s nostalgic pastime is typically conservative and traditional in the sporting world, but their official Twitter isn’t as stuffy, promoting giveaways and fan interaction. By being early adopters of this new medium, MLB is approaching the YOLO generation at home plate, turning in the lineup card, and hollering a resounding “#PlayBall” @theworld.