With his fastball hovering around 90 mph these days, Tim Lincecum will probably never again be what he was when he first came up. Of course, that’s a remarkably high standard; Lincecum won Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons and led the NL in strikeouts three years in a row. From 2007 through 2011, he went 69-41 with a 2.98 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts in 1,028 innings.
Unfortunately, even after Saturday’s 13-strikeout no-hitter, Lincecum is just 15-24 with a 4.82 ERA the last two years. He led the NL in losses last season, and he’s in the running to do it again if the no-no wasn’t the sign that a larger turnaround is coming. He’s still striking guys out, but he’s allowing more walks and homers in the process.
Just seven years and 84 victories down, we’re still a long way from knowing if Tim Lincecum might go into the Hall of Fame someday. Obviously, he’ll have to bounce back somewhat and hang around long enough to top 150 wins. Two Cy Young Awards will help a bunch, but it doesn’t make him a lock. Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain won two apiece and never received any Hall of Fame support. Johan Santana has two, but if his career is over with a 139 wins, he’s probably not getting in.
One thing in Lincecum’s favor is his postseason record. In 2010, he went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA for the World Series champs. Last year, he never started a game, yet he still played a key role in another championship, amassing a 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings out of the pen. Overall, he’s 5-2 with a 2.47 ERA in October.
Right now, Lincecum’s best match would seem to be Orel Hershiser. Hershiser was on an obvious Hall of Fame path through six seasons, winning one Cy Young and receiving votes three other times. He was the ace of a championship team in 1988 and set a record for consecutive scoreless innings. Hershiser then blew out his shoulder four starts into year seven and was never the same pitcher afterwards, though he managed to hang around through 2000. Hershiser went 98-64 with a 2.69 ERA in his first six seasons and 106-86 with a 4.17 ERA afterwards.
That didn’t prove to be nearly enough for Hershiser, though. He was named on 11.2 percent of ballots in his first year and then fell off the ballot in his second year. Sadly for him, the standards for the Hall of Fame for starting pitchers are quite a bit higher than they used to be.
If Lincecum can pitch another 10 years and match Hershiser with something close to that 106-86 record, he should have a better shot. For one, the Hall of Fame standards will probably change a bit by then. Second, all of those sexy strikeouts should help. Lincecum has 1,442 right now, and he’ll finish the season at least third all-time in strikeouts through seven seasons. Only Tom Seaver (1,655) and maybe Bert Blyleven (1,546) will have more. The lone pitcher with a higher K rate through seven seasons (min. 1,000 innings) is Kerry Wood.
But first, Lincecum has to get to 160-170 wins or so. The lowest total of any starter in the Hall of Fame is 150 for Dizzy Dean. Addie Joss (160) and Sandy Koufax (165) are the only to other two under 175. Of the last 12 starters elected to the Hall of Fame, the lowest win total is Catfish Hunter’s 224. That Curt Schilling has just 216 is being held against him. Excellent pitchers like Kevin Brown (211), David Cone (194) and Dave Stieb (168) had their candidacies dismissed out of hand. Things will change some by 2025 and pitchers with more modest win totals should again be taken seriously. We’ll just have to wait and see.