Watching Tim Lincecum struggle against the Washington Nationals should remind us all that he’s human. And, at the same time, the tremendous strides he’s made since he debuted in 2007 at the age of 23-years-old. I’ve written about it before, but two things essentially have turned Lincecum from a promising college arm to one of the best pitchers in baseball — (1) the changeup and (2) his improved control. Point (1) is easy. His changeup has become one of — if not the — best pitches in baseball. Hitters can’t make contact against it and he’s throwing it nearly 50% of the time in any count in which a hitter has 2 strikes.
Even when the count moves to 3-2, Lincecum is still going to throw the changeup 48.9% of the time. It’s a testament to how fast he’s developed a feel for the pitch. In 2010, by FanGraphs’ pitch-type values, Lincecum’s changeup — just by itself — has been worth 11.4 runs above average. That’s a 1-win pitch and by the time the season ends, it’s likely to be closer to 2.5 to 3 wins. Any pitch that’s 1.5 wins above average, or better, can safely be called one of the best in baseball. Roy Halladay’s cutter, Zack Greinke’s fastball, Adam Wainwright’s curveball all fall into this category. Lincecum’s changeup is amazing, but you already knew that.
Part (2) deals with Lincecum’s huge strides in control. While in college, from 2004-2005 Lincecum was walking 6+ hitter per 9. He lowered his BB/9 in his senior year to a “strike-throwing” 4.5 walks per 9. When Lincecum reached the majors, something changed with his ability to throw strikes. It got much better. In his first season in 2007 Lincecum walked 4 batters per 9 — but since ’07 he’s lowered his BB/9 or kept it in the low 3′s: 2008 (3.3), 2009 (2.7), and 2010 (3.4). Control has been the main problem with Lincecum’s mini-struggle.
Details from his past 3 games:
The past 3 games mark the first time in Lincecum’s career that he’s walked 5+ batters in 3 consecutive starts. All games have a similar thread running through them — the walks — but the past 2 games are much more alike than his start against Houston on May 15th, which wasn’t actually all that bad. High pitch counts as the result of walking hitters have knocked Lincecum out of his last 2 starts. Where does his current loss of control rank among Tim’s career?
Using the fabulous BB-Ref, we can search for consecutive games in which Lincecum walked at least 4 batters. Here is the Top-5 results:
I think it’s very telling that 3 of the 5 are from the ’07 season in which he was still figuring himself out as a pitcher.
As they say, “Where do we go from here?”. Over the past 3 starts, it’s the most walks we’ve seen out of Lincecum since ’07 and the first time that he’s ever walked 5+ in 3 straight games. Before the game last night there was some talk about a blister that Lincecum is currently dealing with. The post-game wrap on SFGiants.com has both Bochy and Lincecum shooting down the blister theory as a reason for his recent mini-skid
What is not a source of complaint is a blister problem that seems to have gone viral. He developed one during Spring Training and has dealt with them through his entire professional career.
“It’s a non-issue,” Bochy said. “We wouldn’t pitch a guy with a blister. He’s fine and he’s going to make his next start.”
Lincecum confirmed the non-issue. “It’s nothing,” he said. “I go through them all the time. It had nothing to do with anything.”
Pitchers get blisters all the time and I’m sure — as the quote from Tim says — that it’s not the first time he’s pitched with one. The question then, if it’s not a health problem, becomes is it mechanical? It’s possible, but I’m not a mechanics expert. Watching Lincecum on TV last night, his mechanics looked “normal”. He was missing high and he didn’t seem to have a great feel for his breaking stuff, but pitchers often don’t when they’re struggling. It’s all too easy to freak out when the Giants’ best player isn’t performing like we’ve come to expect, but Lincecum seems to be a pretty smart guy that’s especially in-tune with his mechanics and the art of pitching. In the long run, I think he’ll make the adjustment or whatever needs to be made. It’s way too early to start panicking after just 3 lackluster starts — even if they came from Lincecum.