So far this year, Brad Lincoln has pitched the same number of innings as a reliever as he has as a starter. As a starter, he has struck out 23, walked 6, and given up 6 home runs in 23.2 innings. As a reliever, he has struck out 32, walked 7 and given up one home run in 27.2 innings. As a starter, his ERA is 6.08; as a reliever it is 0.33. Granted, this is a miniscule sample size, but anyone who has watched him pitch this year knows that he is much stronger as a reliever.
So what is his value as a reliever? With Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan holding down the high leverage right-handed relief spots in the bullpen (at least for now) he is a dominant reliever who can go multiple innings. In his time as a dominant reliever he has pitched 27.2 innings in 17 appearances. He is averaging closer to two innings than one inning per appearance. This makes him perfect to come into a bad situation left behind a starting pitcher, get his team out of that jam, and then give them a few more good innings to keep them in the game. During the regular season, using a sixth starter/ swingman/ innings eater is acceptable. During the playoffs, it’s disastrous.
In the playoffs, you can only lose 2 out of 5 or 3 out of 7 games (not including the new one game playoff, which actually makes my point stronger). In these series, teams usually move to a four man rotation because of the benefit of extra off days and subsequent ability to use their best starters more. This moves the fifth guy to the bullpen. In the event that one of the top four starters falls apart, the fifth starter is usually called on for multiple innings of relief.
Imagine this, the Pirates are on the road with the score 5-3, with the Pirates being the 3, in the bottom of the fourth inning. A.J. Burnett has imploded this inning, allowing two runs to score already and leaving two men on with one out. Who do you want coming out of the bullpen: Kevin Correia or Brad Lincoln?
I know that this is getting way ahead of myself here, but this is something to consider as the deadline approaches. There is an argument to be made that if Grilli and Hanrahan are both still on the team come August then Lincoln is a luxury that the Pirates don’t need. As a result, there may be calls to trade him. A pitcher like Lincoln is extremely valuable, especially when each game starts to be a must-win.