For the first five years of his career, Tim Lincecum was pretty, pretty, pretty good at pitching. This year, he came out terribly, sitting at 0-2 and a 10.54 ERA after three starts. The world melted down because, clearly, Timmy was finished as an elite pitcher.
There are still velocity concerns with Lincecum, but over the past three starts, he's looked much more like his old self than he had before. Has he looked "elite"? No, not necessarily. But let's take a closer look at Lincecum's prior performances and do some fancy number extrapolation, thanks to the awesome stat-crunching website that is Baseball-Reference.com.
Over the first five years of Lincecum's career, he averaged 206 innings pitched, 225 strikeouts and 76 walks per season and 31 games started per year. He posted a 2.98 ERA over that timespan, a 137 ERA+ and a 1.19 WHIP.
Now, because BBR allows you to highlight certain sections of a player's game logs and then automatically extrapolates that production over 162 games, we're capable of seeing what Lincecum would be on pace for if we simply ignored his first three starts. (Yes, I know this is absurdly convenient, but if we're going to panic about the first three starts in a vacuum, why can't we be calm about the last three in the same manner? It's a small-sample analysis either way.)
Lincecum, if he produced at the same clip of his past three starts over a full season, would end up pitching 204 innings, producing a 2.03 ERA and striking out 193 batters. This is far from an effective science, because that sort of season would almost never happen for Lincecum. He's gotten a .209 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) from hitters over the past three games, and that's unsustainable.
Additionally, his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate would be 6.13 in this hypothetical, and that's a major red flag considering he averaged 9.9 K/9 over the past five seasons. Of course, his individual season K/9 has dipped every season since his first Cy Young campaign in 2008, a natural progression for age from a hard-throwing pitcher.
Ironically, it's actually back UP this year, to 9.4 on the season but it comes with the spiked ERA. The reality is that Lincecum's not the same pitcher he was in 2008. He likely won't ever be that pitcher again.
But he's also not one of the worst pitchers in baseball either. We all knew that even when he was struggling through his first three starts. It's just nice to realize that he's starting to gravitate towards a more Lincecum-like level of production.