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Lincecum is not the ace he used to be

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - High-sock wearing surfer dude Barry Zito came out of nowhere yesterday in Denver to record his first shutout since the Moneyball days back in Oakland. With Monday's triumph, the Giants were finally able to enter the win column, improving to 1-3 on the young season.

The stunning performance by the 33-year-old Ashton Kutcher look-alike raises plenty of questions, including "where the heck did that come from?" and "why would anybody ever wear number 75?"

But to me, the biggest question mark for the Giants isn't Zito, Panda Sandoval, Brandon Belt or even Buster Posey. It's their longhaired ace Tim Lincecum.

Two years ago, every time the skinny righthander took the hill, you thought you were going to witness something special, historic even.

That aura of dominance that Lincecum used to possess has now faded. There's a lot more uncertainty with Lincecum nowadays.

Sure, Lincecum could turn back the clock to 2008 and have a Cy Young worthy performance when he toes the rubber Wednesday night against the Rockies. But Lincecum could just as easily allow five runs like he did in the season opener in Arizona. At this stage in Lincecum's career, neither outcome would surprise me.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up on Lincecum. I think he's still a terrific pitcher. He just isn't worth the high price tag that fantasy owners continue to pay for him year after year, at least not anymore.

This year Lincecum was taken with the 29th pick (third round) of my fantasy draft. He was the fifth pitcher taken overall behind Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee but still ahead of studs Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, James Shields and Cole Hamels.

In an auction draft I was in, Lincecum went for $26. With Jered Weaver going for $24, Zack Greinke for $20 and CC Sabathia for $19 in the same draft, $26 sure seems like lot of fake money to throw at a guy who might only win you 12 or 13 games.

All pitchers begin to decline at some point in their career and Lincecum is no different. The 27-year-old went 18-5 in 2008 and 15-7 the following year en route to back-to-back Cy Young awards. In 2010, his win/loss record fell to 16-10 before dropping all the way to 13-14 last season.

Lincecum's mediocre record last year can partly be attributed to the Buster Posey injury and San Francisco's overall lack of offense. None of that can account for Lincecum's drop-off in strikeouts and ERA however.

Since peaking at 265 punch-outs in 2008, Lincecum's strikeout totals have decreased every season (265, 261, 231 and just 220 in 2011).

His ERA has witnessed a similar decline. After dipping as low as 2.48 in 2009, Lincecum's ERA rose by almost a full run in 2010 (3.43) before leveling out at 2.74 last season.

Lincecum is also surrendering home runs at a higher rate than he used to. After allowing 21 long balls between 2008-09, hitters have gone deep 35 times off of Lincecum since 2010, including a pair of monster home runs Friday versus the Diamondbacks.

It's not hard to figure out why Lincecum has suddenly become hittable these past two seasons. His fastball velocity has fallen significantly, he barely throws his slider anymore and now that Lincecum has been in the league for five years, his strange running delivery has lost its novelty and doesn't throw hitters off anymore.

And look at the innings this guy has thrown. Lincecum should be exhausted.

Since 2008, Lincecum has racked up 887 innings pitched. That puts Lincecum in the same neighborhood as perennial workhorses Justin Verlander (924.1) and CC Sabathia (964). The only difference is that at over 6'5" and 225 pounds (with Sabathia weighing in at close to 300), Verlander and Sabathia both have the kind of powerful frames that can sustain that incredible workload.

Lincecum, at 5'11" and 163 pounds, is built like a toothpick. That's an amazing amount of wear and tear to put on a guy Lincecum's size, no matter how young he is. It's no wonder his fastball doesn't have the same life on it that it used to.

Amazingly neither Verlander nor Sabathia have ever ended up on the DL. Lincecum might not be as fortunate. If San Francisco doesn't limit Lincecum's innings early on, this could be the year that Lincecum finally misses time with a significant injury.

That's not to say Lincecum isn't valuable any more. Even in a sub par outing against Arizona last week, Lincecum still fanned seven hitters. In many categories, including strikeouts (tied with Halladay for seventh in MLB last season) and ERA (also seventh in the majors last year), Lincecum should remain a top-10 fantasy pitcher.

But Lincecum's most valuable asset is his name. Lincecum will always be associated with fantasy dominance because of his two NL Cy Young awards and it's clear that owners will continue to overpay for him until he starts imploding. That's why it makes a ton of sense to trade Lincecum, especially early on in the fantasy season while his value is still pretty high (owners might be a little more hesitant to make a deal if Lincecum's ERA is still north of four in late May or early June).

If you can grab help in another area for Lincecum, why wouldn't you? You'll probably end up getting more than you deserve for him. Just make sure whoever you are trading with doesn't read this article.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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