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What can the Angels expect from The Freak?

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

With pen finally put to paper, but we can now comfortably start to envision what Tim Lincecum will look like in an Angels' uniform. With 4/5 of their projected starting rotation on the shelf, the Halos were a natural fit for Lincecum in his comeback bid: west coast team, some semblance of being competitive and a guaranteed rotation spot in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Timmy threw only 76.1 IP last year before his season ended in June with a bum hip. His fastball averaged well under 90 MPH for the first time in his career and he posted his fourth consecutive below-average season. So what, exactly, did the Angels find so intriguing?

During his showcase earlier this month, reports had him throwing 90-92, closer to his 2013-14 range. While his results in those seasons were hardly impressive, there are some indicators that point to him still being an effective starting pitcher. In 2013, he made 32 starts and struck out 193 batters over 197.2 IP, with 3.5 BB/9. Those are essentially his career averages and align with his last All Star season in 2011.

That All Star campaign was also the last time Lincecum averaged 92 MPH with his fastball. It dropped to 90.4 MPH in 2012, coinciding with steady decline in his strike out rate and a rise in his home run rate:

Lincecum AVG FB HR/9 SO/9
2011 92.2 0.6 9.1
2012 90.4 1.1 9.2
2013 90.2 1.0 8.8
2014 89.6 1.1 7.7
2015 87.5 0.8 7.1

While all pitchers count on their lower body to propel their pitches towards home plate, this would be especially true for the small-framed Lincecum and his meticulous mechanics. Hips do not go bad over night, making it hard to imagine that this issue did not start bothering Tim before last season, causing me to wonder if his decline in effectiveness coincided with a decline his the health of his lower-body. With both hips now completely repaired, is it a leap to think that Timmy can suddenly return to form?

Probably, though it is not a reach to think he can at least be a useful starter, which is really all we need right now. If he was topping out at 92 MPH during his workout, we should be happy if he can simply keep his fastball hovering around 90 MPH. Even through his decline phase, he has done a good job missing bats, with his swinging-strike percentage lining up favorably with the rest of his career:

SwStr% 2012 2013 2014 2015 Career
Season 11.5% 11.3% 9.7% 10.7% 11.0%
MLB Rank 10 7 na na 30

There is certainly more to pitching than missing bats, but it is still a valuable tool and Lincecum does it better than all but 29 other starters in the PITCHf/x era, even at this point in his career. If improved health leads to better mechanics, there is no reason not to believe that his whiffing ways won't continue.

We are wise to temper our excitement until we see how he looks in his minor league assignments, but if he was able to strike out over 7 batters per start and manage a near-average 91 ERA+ with two bum hips, excuse my enthusiasm a bit as I imagine a healthy Freak helping solidify the Angels' rotation in the second half of the season. If nothing else, we have yet another player who should be a lot of fun to watch.