Tim Lincecum is all fucked up. No delicate way around it. The previous post laid out how far from his standard he is pitching and his record even with a moderate 5.75 average run support. (All four other starters on the team have lower average and better records/ERA/fewer problems.)
The only thing that seems to be written about Lincecum is his average dip in velocity. Clearly that’s a problem. A guy accustomed to throwing 95 is now throwing 90, no longer a blow-it-by-you fastball. Arm injury or shoulder fatigue aren’t sometimes detectable and even difficult to remedy. In the horrendous August he had in 2010, he took to better conditioning to battle any symptoms of a weary body. It doesn’t seem so simple anymore. But his fastball becoming less and less of a weapon isn’t a new thing. Last year, the pitch value on his four-seamer was average at best. This year, it’s slightly below average. An average or worse pitch value means an inability to locate for strikes or that when thrown in the zone, it gets mashed hard.
As an offshoot, the decline in velocity means his change-up is less valuable. A two mile-an-hour difference matters when making a decision on whether or not to hack at a pitch that might wind up in the dirt. His other off-speed offerings the curve and slider haven’t been as valuable. Since he more or less strapped the curve as his strikeout pitch with his discovery of the change-up, it’s gone by the way-side. Fans will remember him being touted upon his call-up as a fastball/curveball pitcher, but not anymore. The slider he used to such great effectiveness in the 2010 playoffs is also “put aside” to “protect his arm.”
Beyond all of his physical repertoire issues, is the bad timing on his walks. A common mistake is that he is falling behind batters. In fact, he’s not. This year his first pitch is a strike at a rate higher than the previous two seasons. He’s getting the first pitch strike at a .56 rate. (2011 was 0.47 and 2010 was .53) The problem is that he’s not finishing his at-bats well. In 2010, after 0-1 counts, his K/BB ratio was 10.85, last season, after 0-1 counts his K/BB ratio was 11.00. This season? After getting ahead, he’s giving up more walks than striking batters out. The ratio is a terrifying 5.70. That’s not the recipe for a strike-out pitcher.
On top of all this, on the flipside, batters who are ahead in the count are slugging a career-high off of Timmy. His OPS when he’s behind in the count is over 1.000. That’s a first by about 100 points.
He’s forcing himself to be a strikeout pitcher. Without a good fastball, and with iffy off-speed offerings, this is difficult. He might have more success reinventing himself as a location and movement pitcher. But that’s not something that he’s going for right now. A lot of one or two-strike counts have resulted in him nibbling for the K until he leaves something over the plate or he walks the guy.
No one knows what is wrong with Timmy. It’s a good bet that he, himself, knows nothing about why he’s all screwed up. Anyone professing to know the secrets to what is wrong with him mechanically or anatomically is fooling themselves.
What fans might be able to find solace in is this: Tim’s father has always been a guiding hand since creating the freak we know today. In recent years, he has laid back and let Timmy fix himself. He’s stayed in the Washington area, specifically the greater Seattle region. Our Franchise’s next start is going to be against the Mariners. Fans need to be optimistic. He’s not going to the minors. The Giants won’t deal him and certainly won’t eat his contract of nearly 40 million dollars. The best thing fans can do is revel in the rediscovery of Vogelsong and Zito and be happy that Cain and Bumgarner will be here for 6 more years.
As for the Giants in general, they need to take out the trash. They cleaned house as they should have last week against San Diego and Chicago. Houston’s up next.
(data from fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com)