As bad as Zito’s been –and that’s pretty damn near the worst pitcher in all of baseball bad– Tim Lincecum has thrust himself directly into the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. He’s certainly making a terrific case for starting the All Star Game.

He’s second in ERA (2.49), first in strikeouts (122), first in winning percentage (10-1, 91%), first in quality starts percentage (88%), tied for third in wins (10), 10th in WHIP (1.24), second in average game score among everyday starters, second in K/9IP, 3rd in OPS against (.621), and has posted all of these great stats while pitching for a team that is 28-47 (37%) without him and his 10-1 record. The team is 12-5 on the days that he pitches, and 26-43 when he doesn’t.

For a pitcher to be 10-1 for a team that is 13th in the league in runs scored is simply astounding. Lincecum is conjuring memories of Steve Carlton’s amazing 1972 season, when he won 27 games for a team that lost 100.

I’d also recommend you take the time to read Tom Verducci’s nice cover in this week’s SI.

…. The skittish Baltimore Orioles, picking ninth in the ’06 draft, basically took him off their board — though by then Lincecum, a junior at Washington, was a two-time Pac-10 pitcher of the year who had struck out more batters than any other pitcher in conference history, including Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson and Mark Prior.

“We took a high school hitter,” recalls then-Baltimore general manager Jim Duquette, referring to Bill Rowell, a third baseman who is hitting .225 in high A ball. “There was a feeling that [Lincecum] was short, not a real physical kid, and mechanically he was going to break down, that there was enough stress on his arm, elbow and shoulder. Our scouting department kind of pushed him down because of the medical aspect.”

Six of the first seven teams to pick in that draft selected pitchers. All of them passed on Lincecum, even the Seattle Mariners, who played it safe in choosing the strapping 6′ 3″ righthander Brandon Morrow — a guy they use in relief at that — rather than the Freak in their own backyard. The Giants took Lincecum at No. 10. He pitched only 13 times in the minors, allowing seven earned runs and whiffing 104 batters in 62 2/3 innings, before it became obvious to San Francisco that it had a prodigy who was wasting his time down there.

Since his May 2007 call-up Lincecum has been only slightly more challenged by major league hitters. In 40 starts through Sunday, he was 16-6 with a 3.30 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 256 innings. Only one starting pitcher in baseball history, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets in the mid-’80s, has won 70% of his decisions over his first two seasons while logging more strikeouts than innings.


UPDATE: According to this article, Brandon Webb will be the All Star starter for the NL. Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner, is 12-4 with a 3.43 ERA, and certainly is the safe choice; given his terrific start, but, as of now, the best pitcher in the NL is Lincecum. I’m glad he’ll be there, but he should’ve gotten the start.

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