When scouts overreact to an athlete’s struggles

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum delivers a pitch to the St. Louis Cardinals in the second inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on August 21, 2010.   UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Baseball scouts have long been waiting for Tim Lincecum to fall apart.

He’s too small.

His delivery is going to lead to problems down the road.

His hair is too long. (This one I actually agree with.)

I swear, every time his velocity drops from one pitch to the next, someone starts hammering away on their keyboard predicting that Lincecum’s arm is going to disintegrate on the mound one day.

There’s no question that the 26-year-old two-time Cy Young winner has struggled this season. I’ve written about his struggles here at The Scores Report, so I’m not going to make light of the fact that he went 0-5 in the month of August with a 7.82 ERA.

But I almost fell out of my chair when I read a recent column by FOX Sports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, who spoke to a scout that had this to say about Lincecum’s future:

* A scout who attended Tim Lincecum’s recent eight-inning, one-run start against the Rockies, says, “That’s the best I’ve seen him all year. His stuff is not back, but he’s getting people out.

“He was getting his curveball over. His command was better. But I’m not seeing more arm strength. It was about average, at times a click above.

“It will be an interesting question this winter: Where is he? What does he have left? I think he’ll end up in the bullpen.”

It’s the last part of the quote that gets me: “I think he’ll end up in the bullpen.”

What a gross exaggeration to Lincecum’s struggles this year. I’m not saying the comment is absurd seeing as how there are plenty of examples of young pitchers who have had arm problems at some point in their careers. But whoever this scout is took Lincecum’s struggles this season and came to the conclusion that he’ll wind up in the bullpen, passing over the fact that the Giants’ ace has won two of the last three Cy Young awards and hasn’t been a complete disaster all season.

One thing that infuriates me when it comes to baseball is that people over analyze everything instead of taking a step back and looking at the basics. Lincecum’s velocity continues to drop, but that’s not why he’s struggled. He’s struggled because he continuously gets behind hitters, who then make him pay when he has to come into the zone. His command has come and gone all year and thus, so has his confidence.

In his last two starts, he has gotten ahead of hitters and has been able to locate his pitches. And, I know this is highly unbelievable and you may want to punch me in the throat just for bringing it up because it is so unbelievable, but he has been lights out (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 20 Ks, 1 BB) in those two outings.

I’m not a scout – I’m only a fan, so I can only make opinions off of what I see. But I know the game of baseball and I know that when pitchers lose their command and get behind hitters, they’re going to get hit. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Tim Lincecum or Todd Wellemeyer – that applies to all pitchers.

Another thing that must be noted is that Lincecum has never had to condition himself before. He’s admitted that he’s gotten by purely on his natural athleticism instead of lifting weights and strengthening his legs. That’s huge for a pitcher, especially as they get older.

So let’s relax on the bullpen talk for a second and let the kid work through his struggles. I’m sure he’ll continue to pitch well down the stretch and I’m willing to bet he puts in the time this offseason to get himself in better shape.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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