The first rule of being a Giants fan is “You must love Tim Lincecum” if not, I’m sorry but you can’t join our club full of sadsacks. Tim Lincecum is awesome. Tim Lincecum gives me hope. I bet Tim Lincecum even smells nice.
Did you know that Tim Lincecum is so tiny that he sleeps on top of a cotton ball? Seriously, dude is small, but somehow, someway, he produces 95mph heat out of his miniature right arm.
Tim Lincecum is our only hope.
That’s why when I started to do the work on this particular PITCHf/x article I was excited. More so than any other Giants pitcher that I’ve looked at. The Zito article was mostly about what Zito is doing wrong and how he’s lost something in his transition to the National League. That’s depressing, but Lincecum’s article is mostly about what he’s doing right. It’s about hope for a better Giants team. I wanted to discover more about Lincecum that I may have missed the first time around in watching his 2007 season. We all know he throws hard, but how hard? We all know that his curve breaks something nasty, but how nasty? What’s he throw? When does he throw it? Who does he throw it to? I’ve attempted to answer all these questions and more in this article.
But before we jump into the article, let’s take a brief look at Tim’s background.
Lincecum was originally drafted out of high school in the 2003 draft by the Chicago Cubs in the 48th round. Lincecum chose not to sign with the Cubs and instead decided to enter college at the University of Washington. At UW, Lincecum began to attract attention from major league teams because of his quality stuff. Despite his small size and unorthodox delivery, Lincecum posted three straight years of excellent baseball. From 2004-2006 Lincecum pitched at least 100 innings and struck out double digit batters per nine innings — K/9′s of 12.90, 11.30, and 14.29. Over those three years, Lincecum also began to hone his command and control, decreasing his BB/9 in each year — BB/9′s of 6.57, 6.12, 4.52. From his first season to his last, he cut almost 2 walks per nine innings off of his walk totals. His BB/9 was still a little high but he made a good effort to curb his wildness while in collegiate ball.
Lincecum re-entered the 2006 player draft and fell to the 10th pick — mostly because of concerns about size and durability — where the Giants gobbled him up with their 1st round pick. Less than 60 total minor league innings later, Lincecum was called up the big leagues in 2007 where he made 24 starts. He finished his ’07 campaign with a 4.00 ERA. Lincecum’s control actually improved some during his first year, his BB/9 rate of 4.00, while still a little high, was lower than it ever was during his time at Washington U.
A star was born and fans immediately flocked to the television or stadium on the days that Lincecum pitched.
How He Does It
Let’s take a look at our first PITCHf/x plot. This is Tim Lincecum’s break plot.
On this plot, the hortizontal plane indicates left-to-right movement, negative numbers break towards a RHB and positive away from a RHB. The vertical plane indicates up-and-down movement, with the negative value indicating a downward break.
In ’07 Lincecum threw three different pitches. A hard fastball that rode in on RHBs, a changeup that broke in and down to RHBs, and a hard breaking curveball that broke down and away from RHBs. The average Lincecum fastball broke in on RHBs 4.29 inches and his change broke slightly more in on RHBs at 5.4 inches. The average Lincecum curveball broke 6.29 inches downward. Not as much as break as a Zito curve — 12.3 inches — but Lincecum throws his curve much faster and harder. Zito’s curve is a slow looping curve. As you can see, Lincecum got a pretty good vertical separation between his fastball and changeup and his curveball. It’s worth noting that Lincecum tinkered with throwing a slider over the offseason and should carry the pitch over into 2008. I’ll be interested to see how it breaks for him.
Lincecum is known for his high velocity on his fastball, let’s check out the initial velocity on his fastball and other pitches.
TYPE INITIAL SPEED (MPH) NUMBER THROWN Fastball 95.11 708 Curve 81.01 182 Change 84.90 178
Lincecum indeed has great velocity. His average fastball, when tracked by PITCHf/x, was in the mid-90′s at 95.11mph. That’s faster than the average Matt Cain fastball (94.39mph). He threw the fastball the most out of his other pitches, 66.2% of Lincecum’s pitches were fastballs. In ’07, when a batter stepped to the plate, Lincecum was most likely to throw him the heat and with good reason as it was usually in the mid-90′s with movement in on right handers.
I was surprised to see that Lincecum threw his changeup almost as much as he did his curveball in ’07. When Lincecum came to the majors he was mostly billed as a fastball / curveball pitcher, not many scouting reports mentioned his changeup. But, it appears that his changeup was a pitch that he often went to in ’07.
Here’s what Baseball America had to say about his changeup in the 2006 Top 10 Prospect Ranking for the Giants:
Their coaches are under strict orders not to tinker with Lincecum’s mechanics. From a stuff standpoint, his changeup is inconsistent.
Lincecum made great strides at the MLB-level with his changeup. The separation in velocity between his changeup and fastball was about 11mph, which is good separation. The greater velocity in which Lincecum throws his curve allows for it’s quick and sharp break, unlike Zitos’ curve, which breaks almost twice as much, but is 10mph slower.
Let’s take a look at the strikes swinging percentage on each of Lincecum’s pitches.
TYPE STRIKES SWINING% Fastball 4.6% Curve 17.03% Change 23.03%
You can definitely see why Lincecum threw his changeup as much as his curveball, batters had a hard time making contact on it. When he threw the change, almost a quarter of the time the batter would swing and miss. His curveball also generated a high percentage of swings-and-misses. While the fastball swing through percentage might look low, in my studies most pitchers don’t generate many swings and misses with the fastball, instead they lead to more foul balls.
The curve and change were excellent pitches for Lincecum in ’07. No Giants starter that I’ve examined so far — Zito, Cain, Lowry — has a strikes swinging percentage in the 20′s. Lincecum’s change is the highest ranking pitch when ranking by strikes swinging percentage of all Giants starters that I’ve currently examined. His curve was the 2nd hardest pitch to make contact against of all Giants starters.
For fun, here’s the top 5 strikes swinging percentages by pitch and pitcher on the Giants staff so far.
Note: I haven’t done the Kevin Correia PITCHf/x article but when I do, I’ll post this list again if any changes are made.
Top 5 Pitches by Strikes Swinging % (Minimum 100 pitches thrown)
1. Tim Lincecum – Changeup (23.03%)
2. Tim Lincecum – Curveball (17.03%)
3. Barry Zito – Changeup (13.6%)
4. Matt Cain – Changeup (13.5%)
5. Noah Lowry – Changeup (12.4%)
Makes sense that offspeed pitches are the hardest to make contact against. It could also be said that the Giants have some good changeups on their staff.
Next, we’re going to look at what Lincecum throws in various counts.
Like we learned above, Lincecum threw his fastball slightly over 66% of the time in ’07 and our graph confirms this. He’s like Matt Cain in that regard, they both heavily favor their fastballs and when you can throw in the mid-90′s, why not? Lincecum especially threw his fastball in the counts of 2-0, 3-0, and 3-1 when he needed a strike because it’s easier to command a fastball than it is offspeed pitches. Lincecum also chose to throw his change or curve in the right spots. From the numbers above, the curve and changeup were most likely to result in a batter swinging at a pitch and missing. Lincecum threw his changeup or curveball the most in counts with 2 strikes such as 1-2, 2-2, and 3-2, these are the right counts for him to throw those two pitches that proved to be tough to make contact against.
Now onto pitch types by batter.
Lincecum didn’t discriminate when it came to throwing his heat, both lefties and righties got the heat in large amounts. His curve was thrown more to RHBs than LHBs, this is because Lincecum’s curve will break down and away from a RHB. Like most right handers, Lincecum used his change the most against LHBs, the change will move away from a lefty.
Four outcomes — balls, foul/tips, strikes swinging, and strikes looking — are included in the following graph.
Lincecum still has some control issues to iron out but they are equalized some by his ability to strikeout hitters. He had some trouble throwing the change for a strike but when he did, it was the hardest pitch of his repertoire to hit. I think the changeup is a pitch that Lincecum was partially learning last year so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him throw it for more strikes this year. Among all of Lincecum’s pitches, the fastball generated the most foul balls. The point is that when you can throw in the mid-90′s with a funky delivery, batters are going to struggle to make solid contact on you. I think it’s interesting that Lincecum’s fastball got so many strikes called. You would expect that his breaking stuff would get the most strikes called — the curve must have frozen a lot of hitters because it generated a good bit of strikes called — but the fastball got 158 strikes called out of 708 fastballs. It’s very possible that Lincecum’s unique delivery helps him hide the ball and for his first year in the major leagues, hitters were still trying to learn how to pick up the ball out his delivery. That seems like a likely scenario because when Lincecum is throwing the ball, it’s almost as if it’s coming out his back pocket.
He’s Pretty Good, Case Closed.
I’ve got a few closing thoughts about Tim as we wrap this thing up.
1. The quality of his pitches are just outstanding. Both his curveball and changeup have the highest strikes swinging percentage of any Giants starter by far. He’s the only starter to get in the 20% for strikes swinging on any pitch. His windup — which does add some deception — combined with the sheer quality of his pitches makes it very tough for hitters to make contact against him.
2. Lincecum’s change and curve are great pitches. He should continue to pound the zone with his fastball — which got the most foul balls and a high percentage of strikes looking — and then drop in his excellent changeup and curveball.
3. I wonder if his strikes looking percentages will decrease some this season? As hitters become slightly more comfortable — comfortable being a relative term here, how comfortable can you get with a guy throwing 95 out of funky delivery — and familiar with his pitching motion they might make a little more contact.
4. How will his new slider play out? I’ll be keeping an eye on the PITCHf/x data on the development of his slider. Another weapon for Lincecum will only give hitters something else to think about and make him tougher to hit against.
5. I can’t recall a Giants pitcher with the combination of pitch quality and stuff that Lincecum has. Maybe when Schmidt was dominating with his great fastball and change but there aren’t many Giants pitchers in my lifetime that I can compare Lincecum to. I think that once he makes another stride with his control, he could really be a special pitcher, not that he already isn’t.
Every fan of this team has already strapped themselves in for this long and difficult season. It’s small things like watching Linecum pitch that will help lessen the feelings of losing and for that, we should be just a little thankful.