There are people who will tell you that this column is completely pointless because under no circumstances should a pitcher be taken this early. It really doesn’t matter who the pitcher is, there is just too much inherent risk involved to waste an early round pick.
I’m not a believer in that strategy. I feel like the right pitcher is worth an early round pick. For years Johan Santana has helped fantasy owners to victory so why shy away from him? I wouldn’t waste an early pick on just any pitcher, but for a true ace… For a pitcher who can buoy your rotation… For the best of the best, I do believe it is worth it.
With that said, does Tim Lincecum fall into that category? There’s no doubting his abilities, he proved that last season when he posted the following line:
265 Strikeouts (10.51 K/9)
84 Walks (3.33 BB/9)
I know people want to point to those innings and say that he is too big of a risk due to injury. There is just no way his arm can handle that load, especially given his delivery. That’s another argument that I just don’t buy. Who’s to say what a pitcher’s arm can or cannot handle? Everyone is different. Everyone can handle different stresses and different workloads.
We’ve all heard about how Lincecum’s delivery was designed, so that really isn’t a concern for me. Could he get injured? Of course, that’s always a risk, but one that is there for any player. How do you think people feel who have already drafted Alex Rodriguez with one of the first five picks on draft day. Now he could be out of action for a month or more, putting a dent in their plans.
How about Carlos Lee last season, who had been carrying fantasy rosters to victory and then in the blink of an eye, his season was over. We can discuss the fears of Josh Hamilton’s ability to stay healthy as well, but that hasn’t stopped people from grabbing him in the first round (despite my thoughts).
Talent is talent. There are always risks, but a potential injury to a pitcher should not preclude you from selecting him.
With all that out of the way, now it’s time to decide if the talent is actually there for him to be selected that early. Everyone knew he could be one of the best in the league, I just don’t think anyone saw it coming so quickly or completely, but is it repeatable?
The Giants have done anything they could to improve their club, outside of landing the big bat they desperately needed (aka Manny Ramirez). They strengthened their bullpen. They added a veteran presence to the rotation. They fortified their defense on the infield.
Will that lead to more wins, or at least the same number? It’s impossible to say. The Giants should be good, but we don’t draft on win potential. I can say that till I’m blue in the face. It’s just too risky, too unpredictable.
His WHIP was strong, and should continue to be so. Yes, he doesn’t have the best control, but he made significant strides from his rookie campaign:
- 2007 – 4.00 BB/9
- 2008 – 3.33 BB/9
Over his minor league career he posted a BB/9 of 3.3, though that was over just 62.2 innings. A regression could be in order, but even if he does fall slightly, it’s not going to have a huge impact. That’s because with his strikeouts, he can maintain a tremendous WHIP even with a higher BABIP (since there are few balls put in play).
Last season his BABIP was .313, placing him in the lower half of the league. With a shortstop with a bit more range now there, those hits could decrease as well and his BABIP should shrink.
In total, a repeat of his 1.17 WHIP could certainly be in order, though a light increase is also possible. Last season that placed him in the Top 15 of the league. As long as he doesn’t start walking the ballpark or suddenly stop striking people out, he’s likely to be in the Top 30 again, if not better.
How about the strikeouts? That number last season was one of the elite. His K/9 (10.51) was the best in the league by over a strikeout per 9 innings (Volquez was second with a 9.46). Since 2005 only three other pitchers have posted K/9 over 10 in a season: Scott Kazmir, Erik Bedard and Mark Prior.
I know, with that crew as company, let the injury questions return, right? Nolan Ryan used to plow people down year in and year out and no one had injury concerns about him, so let’s move on.
It’s tough to expect any pitcher to be able to repeat that type of strikeout performance. Johan Santana, who showed the potential to reach that plateau season-in and season-out, actually only reached it twice. Instead, he generally sat in the 9.25 – 9.61 range (excluding last season). It’s very likely that Lincecum can’t match the production here he showed.
There’s no doubt about his talents, and before I make my ultimate decision, let’s take a look at the numbers I’d expect him to post this season:
205.0 IP, 17 W, 2.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 222 K (9.75 K/9), 80 BB (3.51 BB/9)
What this decision really comes down to is if you would rather take Lincecum or a hitter like Lee or Prince Fielder. It’s an extremely tough decision, since you are really comparing apples and oranges.
The line I projected for him is a tremendous line, an elite line. I still don’t put him as the top pitcher off the board, that honor goes to Johan Santana until he proves differently (that’s a discussion for another day). I did put Lincecum as the second best, but to me, I’d much rather grab him in Round #3. The hitters that are available are just too good to pass up. Factor in the likely regression, however slight it is, in WHIP and K’s, and it makes the decision a little easier.
If I miss out on Lincecum, I know that C.C. Sabathia or Brandon Webb is likely to be sitting there when I pick again. Yes, there’s a falloff in the strikeout department, but not enough to make me reach for Lincecum.
What about you? Is Lincecum someone that you would like to grab in Round 2?
Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.