Chat with Rob Neyer
Consider: in 2007 only three National League pitchers younger than 24 pitched enough innings (162) to qualify for the league's ERA title. And none of them were rookies. So when a kid pitcher comes along who can actually, you know, pitch ... well, I'm sure you'll pardon us for getting just a little bit excited.
Eight pitchers younger than 24 pitched more than 100 innings, and only three of those eight made their major-league debuts last season. Those three? 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo, 22-year-old Kyle Kendrick and 23-year-old Tim Lincecum. Which one of them has the most promising future?
With due respect, we're going to summarily eliminate Kendrick from the competition. Why? Because while Gallardo and (especially) Lincecum feature overpowering stuff, Kendrick struck out only 3.6 batters per nine innings, which ranked 73rd among the 76 National Leaguers with at least 100 innings pitched last season. Granted, Aaron Cook ranked 76th and Cook is a pretty good pitcher. But you have to look at strikeout rates when comparing young pitchers, and Kendrick just doesn't stack up with Gallardo and Lincecum.
The case for Lincecum
The case for Gallardo
The ChoiceEntering last season, Lincecum and Gallardo both were listed among the top five or six pitching prospects in the minors, and both justified their status after reaching the majors. Perhaps we should be frightened by Lincecum's small frame -- he's listed as 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds -- but I find his strikeout rate irresistible, and he's also past the age at which we might be particularly concerned about a serious injury. But what do you think? Vote: Which young pitcher would you rather have?
Archive: Hot Stove Heaters
Rob Neyer (1:58 PM)
Ready, everybody? This chat kicks off in two minutes and I'm already having second thoughts about my choice...
Tony (Rockford, IL)
With Lincecum, you have to think Billy Wagner from the right side. That said, I think Gallardo will be the better starter. His upside is a little higher and I think he'll be staying in Milwaukee longer than Lincecum will in San Francisco.
Rob Neyer (2:03 PM)
I'm not sure how to fairly judge "upside" and its general value, and for our purposes it's irrelevant which will be staying longer where he is now. What I want to know is, if you could have one of these guys for the next five years, who would you choose?
Ryan Parkersburg, Iowa
Rob, I watched Lincecum pitch quite a bit in 2007, and when he is on, he is one of the best in baseball, electric, you might say, now Gallardo has good stuff, but he doesn't have that blazing fastball to intimidate hitters, I was hoping you'd ask yourself, if you were a hitter, which pitcher would you rather see on a given day?
Rob Neyer (2:03 PM)
Gallardo, probably. But that doesn't necessarily make Lincecum the better pitcher, any more than it made Nolan Ryan better than Jim Palmer.
Lincecum is very comparable to Roy Oswalt, and i believe will be better. How can you not want the next Roy Oswalt? Lincecum seems like a sure thing to me, while Gallardo seems like more of a risk.
Rob Neyer (2:04 PM)
TINSTAAPP. Or in this case, TINSTAAST.
Kevin: Shrewsbury MA:
Do you think that Lincecum's unusual delivery will cause health problems in the future?
Rob Neyer (2:07 PM)
I'm not qualified to talk about mechanics, and won't pretend to be. I do believe he can't generate the power he does without that unusual delivery, and his size, his delivery, and his college workload did scare off some teams. I believe that's why he went 10th in the draft rather than in the top two or three.
Teddy (Los Angeles)
I don't think many people rival the overall stuff of Tim Lincecum and I see his delivery as an advantage, not a risk. Hitters like the typical slow and controlled deliveries that most pitchers use today. Lincecum is explosive to the plate, and that does play a part in upsetting the hitter's timing. Joba and Buchholz was a close debate. I don't think this one is very close. Lincecum, easily.
Rob Neyer (2:08 PM)
Easily? Now I'm feeling better about my choice...
Joe (Albany, NY)
I wouldn't let Lincecum's diminutive frame. I remember a small framed fire-baller out of Montreal that has managed to carve out a pretty solid career for himself: Wasn't his name Pedro Martinez or something like that? If Lincecum ends up with a career that's even within reasonable shouting distance of what Pedro has done, The Giants would be pretty amped I would imagine.
Rob Neyer (2:09 PM)
Hey, I don't have a problem with small(ish) pitchers, and a lot of you have also mentioned Roy Oswalt.
Rob, there's a terrific video on youtube comapring Lincecum's delivery to Sandy Koufax's. From what I've read that his father apparently molded his son's delivery on Koufax. For me, even though I'm a great admirer of Koufax, given Lincecum's small fram--for a pitche--and seemingly "violent" delivery, it seems like only a matter of time until he'll need Tommy John surgery or major shoulder surgery. Your thoughts?
Rob Neyer (2:11 PM)
Oh, I'd like to see that (and come to think of it, I think I have). As for surgery, I just don't know. They used to say that about Kevin Appier, and he went nine years before breaking down. And remember when Mark Prior was supposedly indestructible?
Rob, Here's that youtube video on Lincecum's mechanics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aYXDjEpjf4&feature=related
Rob Neyer (2:11 PM)
Thanks, Chris. I hope the link works for everybody. Also a comparison in there to Oswalt. I wish I'd seen this last night!
One of Gallardo's greatest assets is his calm demeanor. You can't put a number on it, it doesn't make it to any stat sheets. But standing out there on the mound and knowing you're in control and not being afraid of who's up at the plate counts for a lot. Especially for a pitcher of his age.
Rob Neyer (2:14 PM)
Sure. But most pitchers with Gallardo's or Lincecum's numbers as young pitchers are able to positively channel their emotions on the mound. I'm not saying Gallardo's not special in that regard. I just don't know that Lincecum isn't, too.
Pastavajule (East Troy, WI)
Is this a chat about Lincecum only ? Yovani Gallardo is going to be a better pitcher in the long run and my reasoning is Mike Maddux !
Rob Neyer (2:16 PM)
You mean the guy who's kept Ben Sheets healthy over the years? Sorry, that was a cheap shot. I just have a real hard time pinning down specific positive effects when it comes to pitching coaches. I'm not saying you're wrong. But the Giants have done pretty well with young pitchers lately, and the coaches there probably deserve some credit, too.
Ok, I'm a homer, but Gallardo throws effortlessly and has incredible poise. Lincecum uses way too much of his body and still think he has arm troubles in his future. TL has absolutely wicked stuff though. I watched him at Mille Park last year mow the Brewers down like grass.
Rob Neyer (2:17 PM)
Again, there are many ways to succeed as a pitcher.
I think the source of the Lincecum obsession in this chat may have more to do with the 7.3 million people in the SF metro area vs. the 1.8 million people in the Milwaukee metro area. I'm not saying it's a good thing, probably just a scaled-down version of the apparent "Yankees bias" in most general chats.
Rob Neyer (2:17 PM)
I'm sure you're right, Jeremy. It's also true that Lincecum is more impressive, just watching him pitch.
Grant (Barcelona, Spain)
Writing from abroad in Barcelona... I have watched Lincecum since his days at Washington (which is not that long ago) and to me he has much better stuff than Gallardo. The only problem is that Gallardo will get more wins than Lincecum at the end of the year because of the Giants lack of offense. How important is a win-loss record to you in determining a pitchers value?
Rob Neyer (2:19 PM)
Not important at all. You're right about the wins and loses, though. You have to feel for Lincecum (and Matt Cain, who's *younger* than Lincecum and went 7-16 last season despite a 3.65 ERA).
Ryan (Parkersburg, IA)
Where do you think Gallardo and Lincecum rank among the best starting pitchers in baseball? I put Lincecum in the top 10, Gallardo probably in the top 15-20
Rob Neyer (2:21 PM)
In baseball? I wouldn't put either of them in the top 20 until I see 200 innings .
brian (san francisco CA)
Who would you take considering they are the same age, Cain or Lincecum?
Rob Neyer (2:22 PM)
I think you have to take Cain, if only because of his track record of professional durability.
Joe (Albany, NY)
As a Cubs fan, I have to go back to a comment just made when it comes to Lincecum: Mark Prior was supposed to be a genetic, mechanical and mental masterpiece when it came to pitching. Yet it was the mentally volitale and overweight Carolos Zambrano that has carried their staff over the years. Nothing against Gallardo, but HOW you pitch isn't the most vital measuring stick.
Rob Neyer (2:22 PM)
I like Gallardo. Having great "stuff" is important to being a good pitcher, but having good command is the most important part of being a starting pitcher. Lincecum walked about 4 batters per 9 IP, Gallardo about 3 per 9 IP. Given that Gallardo still has nasty stuff, I'd take the younger pitcher with better command. Walks just kill you.
Rob Neyer (2:25 PM)
I think that's the key issue here. Lincecum obviously has better stuff -- Koufax-like, almost -- but if he walks 80 or 90 batters per season he simply can't rank among the league's best starters. I'm not saying his control won't improve, but until it does he's not an elite guy.
Brad (Columbus, OH)
Can someone explain to me why Cubs fans love Zambrano so much (or paid him so much money) he had an ERA in the 4's yet hes treated like some mega ace. Isn't he just a durable innings eater?
Rob Neyer (2:27 PM)
He's better than that, but he doesn't seem to the same pitcher he was three or four years ago. Of course, considering salary inflation he still might wind up being a bargain for the Cubs.
Gene (New Haven)
Gallardo did wear down badly last year towards the end
Rob Neyer (2:28 PM)
Not really. He started five games in September. In the first three he didn't allow a run. I mean, none. In the fourth he pitched well. In the fifth he got knocked around a bit, but far from a disaster. Gallardo's bad month was August.
Dave (Albany, NY)
A possible plus for Gallardo is that he no longer has Braun at 3rd and 15 games in will have Cameron in center.
Rob Neyer (2:29 PM)
Good point, Dave. Shouldn't affect our analysis, really, but we do tend to forget the guys behind the guys. If I'm Gallardo I'm thrilled with the defensive changes.
Ryan (Parkersburg, IA)
Zambrano is an ace. He had one bad year, and it wasn't even that bad. If you consider a low 4 ERA bad, I want bad pitchers. If he ever gets past his control issues, he's among the top 3 starters in MLB.
Rob Neyer (2:30 PM)
Boy, I don't know ... Your "ace" has walked 216 batters over the last two seasons. That's gotta be just a bit of a concern, no?
That bad month of August was with his trip to Colorado...where he was kept in there to take a bullet for the pen...gave up 11 runs in 2.2Innings pitched... That was his only bad start, his ERA jumped from under 3 to a 4.20 because of that game.
Rob Neyer (2:32 PM)
He also got hammered a week later, facing the Cardinals. But his other outings in August were fine.
Zambrano will never change because he is who he is: a head case. His personality will never allow him to be a top 3 starter because he doesn't focus enough to have his command allow him to be that great.
Rob Neyer (2:35 PM)
Derek, there's a gaping hole in your argument, which is that Zambrano WAS a "top 3 starter". Well, maybe not top three. But top five or six. The "problem" is that he seems to be regressing from where he was, and I still believe that he's simply not the same, physically, as he was three years ago.
Chris (A2, Mich)
Who cares about Zambrano? Let's stick with the youngsters.
Rob Neyer (2:36 PM)
Okay. Didn't mean for this to be a Z-fest...
I like Gallardo, but when I look at Lincecum, i see a pitcher that has two of the best PITCHES in the league among starters. In terms of pure velocity on his fastball, Lincecum has to be near the top, with guys like Verlander and Beckett; and Lincecum's curve is probably the best in the League behind Beckett and Sheets
Rob Neyer (2:38 PM)
Yes, but can he throws enough strikes with them? Enough to be great (rather than merely good), I mean.
At every stop, Gallardo's stuff has been questioned, yet at the end of the year, he is always there amongst the league leaders. The most dominant pitchers over the last 20 years haven't always had electric stuff. Is it possible that there is an immeasurable quality that determines success? And is it possible that past accomplishments should be weighted more than success?
Rob Neyer (2:39 PM)
Oh, I don't think his stuff has been questioned *that* much (and I just had a flash of deja vu; did we talk about this last summer?). Gallardo was ranked among the top prospects one year ago. If a kid can throw 95 with control and movement you're not going to ask a lot of questions.
Carter, San Francisco
Rob, just wondering if John Sickels sheds any light on this debate? thanks, you do great work and deserve to be voting on Hall candidates.
Rob Neyer (2:43 PM)
Last winter, Sickels' top five pitching prospects were (in order): Hughes, Garza, Gallardo, Bailey, Lincecum. He didn't have anything negative to say about either of them, except 1) Gallardo might never throw harder than he does now (which isn't a problem), and b) Lincecum ran up some terribly high pitch counts in college (which doesn't seem to have bothered him yet).
Location, location, location. If you have four quality pitches, know how to use them, and can hit your spots you will have a great career. Throw in Gallardo's mid 90s fastball and you are looking at an All-Star career; TL could just be a flash in the pan. If all you can throw for a strike is a fastball, it doesn't matter how hard you throw it; Major Leaguers will hit it.
Rob Neyer (2:45 PM)
One, Gallardo's still working his slider (the fourth pitch). And two, many, many pitchers have thrived for years with just two (excellent) pitches, and a lot of people think Lincecum's fastball and curve are among the best. Granted, maybe you need a decent third pitch eventually, but he's got plenty of time to develop one.
Bill Simmons (L.A., CA)
Rob, hi! Bill Simmons, ESPN. No matter what you say, Clay Buchholz will be better than either of these schmucks. Yes I just said schmucks!
Rob Neyer (2:48 PM)
I don't believe you're really Bill Simmons. But I would take Buchholz, too, if only because he was so good in The Magnificent Seven. Thanks for playing, and good night!