Tim Lincecum and the Giants Rewrite the New Age Rules

Tim Lincecum has never been a conventional pitcher.

From the way he and his stage-father dictated to teams that were interested in drafting him that there would be no deviation in his unique motion, to the Giants decision not to treat him as a delicate flower that would disintegrate at a strong wind by establishing ludicrous and random edicts on his workload, Lincecum’s always been different and the Giants, to their credit, have enabled him.

Unlike other pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, there was no long-term plan to count innings and pitches in a manner that was more applicable to keeping him from getting hurt and shielding the organization from criticism at the expense of developing him to be the best he could be. Lincecum pitched in 13 minor league games before heading to San Francisco. In the minors and majors in 2007, he threw a total of 177 innings. In 2008, he logged 227 and won the first of back-to-back Cy Young Awards. His innings totals have been over 212 in every year since his rookie campaign.

For an organization that’s been called antiquated in their personnel decisions, the Giants may be leading a full circle revival to a return of the old-school days by letting young pitchers pitch and not nitpicking their innings and pitch counts so they can stay healthy when they’re 28 and on the free agent market so the Yankees and Red Sox can give them the free agent money a team like the Giants can’t.

That Lincecum iconoclasm and Giants’ “antiquated” methods are extending to their contract negotiations.

If the performance of Lincecum were replicated in another venue, the team and player would have come to an agreement on a long-term deal after the first year or two of his career. Most would want the mutual security of a guarantee for the player and cost certainty for the team.

Not Lincecum.

He’s willing to put his money where his mouth is and function on what amounts to a biennial back-and-forth of threatening to go to the arbitration table before hammering out a very lucrative—and short-term—contract.

Confident enough to expect to continue having the same success he’s had so far, Lincecum deviates from the norm on and off the field. This uniqueness has led to him becoming something of a cultural phenomenon. He’s extremely small for a pitcher in today’s game; he shuns conventional postgame recovery tactics like icing his arm; and that personality extends all the way to his long flowing black hair and alternative, borderline hippie style.

Because he’s left to his own devices as a player, he’s not subject to the self-doubt that permeates the psyche of even the most established players.

With that in mind, he refused the Giants overtures to sign a 5-year, $100 million contract to buy out his remaining arbitration years and first three years of free agency.

This would’ve provided him with a 9-figure payday even if he never threw another pitch—something that’s a possibility with any pitcher regardless of his dedication and the team’s diligence in keeping him healthy.

But he decided that he wanted a shorter-term deal and to take his chances.

With that in mind, Lincecum and the Giants have reached a verbal agreement on a 2-year, $40.5 million deal to avoid arbitration for this year and next.

He wants to maximize his dollars and if he happens to get hurt before the day he’s on the open market, so be it.

For someone who puts forth the public face of the gentle soul who’d be comfortable living in a commune, Lincecum is ruthless on the field and an unfettered capitalist off it.

Most players would’ve taken the money and ran.

But most players aren’t allowed to think for themselves and figure out their issues on their own without interference from the front office, managers and coaches.

Lincecum is taking a risk by going the short-term route and waiting out his opportunity at free agency, but if he maintains his level of work, he’s going to make a lot more money than he would if he settled for safety rather than trusting himself and what he’s been taught.

The logic on the Giants part seems to be that if his bullets are going to be spent, they’ll be spent as a Giant.

For Lincecum, he’s investing in himself and his belief that the techniques taught to him by his dad will yield long-term durability.

In an age of baseball pitchers being something of an underdeveloped nation through overprotective paranoia, it’s somewhat refreshing.

No.

It’s very refreshing.

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