Angels near agreement with Tim Lincecum to fill pitching void

Lincecum exited stage left in 2015 after just 76 innings. He posted a fine ERA during that time — one that, when park-adjusted and whatnot, was about the norm for a starter — but his shaky control resulted in a career-worst 1.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Long haunted by hip pain, Lincecum underwent surgery last September that has ignited the ember of hope in everyone that he’s ready to get back to being good.

This is where that ember has to be — if not extinguished, at least studied with a critical eye. Lincecum is a 30-something-year-old pitcher who, in the three seasons prior to 2015, had compiled a 73 ERA+. The Angels signed Kyle Kendrick to zero fanfare in late April. Kendrick, over his last three seasons, has a 78 ERA+. Analyzing pitchers is hardly that cut and dry — and health is the most important attribute for any and everyone — but Lincecum would be doing well to be a league-average starter.

Besides, let’s not pretend all of Lincecum’s flaws were due to his hip. One of his biggest problems was pitching from the stretch. In addition to being slow to the plate — allowing basestealers to run without hesitation — Lincecum was less successful in retiring hitters. Check out the gaps on his 2014-15 marks:
OPS split 2013 2014 2015
Bases empty 0.709 0.703 0.671
Runner(s) on 0.712 0.878 0.820

With all that established, it still make sense for the Angels to take a chance on Lincecum, who is likely to require a few spins in Triple-A before he’s ready for the Show. The Angels are without Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and C.J. Wilson, and have other issues brewing in their rotation: Matt Shoemaker has allowed six runs or more in half his six tries, while Jered Weaver has a 6.10 ERA and is throwing in a velocity band that qualifies him to pitch in the Pacific Association.

In other words, so what if there’s no guarantee that Lincecum is an upgrade — what do the Angels have to lose? If he stinks, he stinks; if he’s good, then the Angels can reap the benefits — be it by allowing him to start for them for the rest of the season, or by trading him for something young and interesting at the deadline. In all likelihood, Lincecum won’t move the needle. That’s okay, though, because there’s no risk here for a team that needs all the upside it can get if it wants to stay in the playoff race deep into the summer.

The Twins are in a dismal spot. They enter the week at 10-26 and with non-existent playoff hopes. To make matters worse, their top youngsters — Byron Buxton andMiguel Sano — haven’t performed as well as hoped, leaving their fans with little to hold onto as a long summer nears. So far as bright spots go, there’s Joe Mauer,Fernando Abad, Eduardo Nunez, Tyler Duffey — the unheralded righty with a good curveball who continues to get results — and, perhaps most importantly, Byung-ho Park.

Last December, Park signed a four-year deal worth $12 million with the Twins — just weeks after the Twins had won exclusive negotiating rights with a bid worth nearly $13 million. Through a month and a half, Park has made that investment look smart. He leads Minnesota in home runs (with nine), slugging percentage (.581), and OPS+ (149). Oh, and when Park gets into one, he really gets into it — hence him having the longest average home-run distance among batters with at least nine long balls.

So far things are not working out as planned. They did hang on to beat the Twins on Monday (DET 10, MIN 8) — they led 8-0 after the first inning — though the win only improved their record to 17-21. They’re seven games back of the first place White Sox. Things have been getting so bad that manager Brad Ausmus is (again) being asked about this job security.

“I don’t get too involved or concerned with the white noise,” said Ausmus to reporters, including James Schmehl of MLive.com, prior to Monday’s game. “It’s what happens in here and out there that matters. As long as everything is good in here, as in the clubhouse, it’s business as usual. It’s just kinda how I go about my day.”

If we assume that Gattis can get back to last year’s levels, that would put him ahead of Salvador Perez in terms of home run power, but a little behind in batting average and strikeout rate. Because his DH duties will give him at least as much playing time as Perez, he needs to be ranked ahead of the Royals’ durable backstop. An even closer comp would be Welington Castillo, who won’t likely play as often but appears to have leapfrogged Gattis as a power source. Should Gattis rebound all the way to his Braves-era level of power, he would need to be ranked ahead of Castillo, but as of now, that’s probably assuming too much.

Still, that would place Gattis fifth in my catcher rankings, so gaining catcher-eligibility is enough to launch him into must-start territory.

Valencia’s week started off looking disastrous but wound up triumphant. Freshly activated from the DL, Valencia left last Monday’s game against the Red Sox with a new injury to his hamstring, and he didn’t return until Friday. Then he proceeded to hit five home runs in the weekend series against the Rays. While a lack of power in April suggested that last season’s breakout was a fluke, his recent performance gives us reason to think there could be something to his 2015 output.

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