The panic in Giantsland with regard to Tim Lincecum’s recent struggles has been overwhelming. It’s for a good reason, too. Tim Lincecum has been the most valuable Giant since he moved from really-good to really-freaking-oh-my-goodness good. The Giants, as a team without the benefit of a top notch offense, will need every starting pitcher on their roster to excel. If Lincecum stops excelling, gets hurt, or suffers a precipitous drop in performance, the Giants are going to be in trouble. This year’s team doesn’t have the offensive firepower to compensate for their best player suffering a prolonged slump. Brilliant analysis, I know.
For the purpose of today’s post, I wanted to try and examine Lincecum’s slump to see what was going on under the surface. It’s a rudimentary look, but I examined three components of Tim Lincecum: Ball%, Strike%, and Strike Swinging%. Then, to break down those three categories by pitch-type with the help of Pitch FX. I divided his pitch data into two crude sections: Pre-Slump (all starts before May 15th) and Slump (all starts after May 15th). Not the most scientific approach, but one that will hopefully shed some light or at least stimulate discussion on Tim.
A quick word on the three categories and what they are.
Ball% – Every pitch classified as a ball. Easy enough.
Strike% – Any pitch that resulted in a strike (Called, Swinging, Foul).
Whiff% – One the most important indicators for dominant pitching. The amount of times a batter takes a swing at a pitch and misses completely.
Now, the data:
Pre-Slump Total# Ball% Strike% Whiff% CH 188 25.0% 60.6% 33.0% CU 129 41.9% 41.1% 8.5% FB 392 38.0% 48.2% 7.4% SL 53 34.0% 49.1% 13.2% Slump Total# Ball% Strike% Whiff% CH 95 32.6% 50.5% 23.2% CU 81 56.8% 33.3% 9.9% FB 230 39.6% 43.5% 7.0% SL 27 37.0% 37.0% 3.7%
And the difference in percentages between the two — difference = (slump – pre-slump).
Diff. Ball% Strike% Whiff% CH +7.6% -10.1% -9.8% CU +14.9% -7.8% +1.3% FB +1.6% -4.7% -0.4% SL +3.1% -12.0% -9.5%
Across the board, Tim’s changeup was thrown for more balls, less strikes, and batters swung-and-missed at it less than before the slump. Because I pulled the data purposely from when Lincecum was struggling, we shouldn’t be shocked that the numbers are down from earlier in the year, but what I think is interesting is how the numbers are down. Tim’s best pitch, by a large margin, is his changeup and during his slump it appears that he’s lost a feel for the pitch — throwing it more for balls and getting less swing-throughs. It’s not all bad, though. Batters are still swinging and missing at the changeup almost a quarter of the time. Even when he’s slumping that’s quite impressive and it indicates that pitch is still quite effective for Lincecum.*
*The league average changeup this year has a Whiff% of 14.2%
If we look at the rest of the pitches between his pre-slump and slump periods, the results are very similar for our three categories. He had a large increase in Ball% for his curveball, but I would chalk that up to a sample size of just 81 pitches rather than a problem with the curve. His Strike% is down, but that should correlate somewhat with the slight rise in Ball% for his pitches. As the changeup goes, so goes Tim Lincecum. It’s heartening to see that the change is still garnering a good clip of swings-and-misses. Lincecum’s bounce-back will begin with the changeup: throwing it for strikes will be key. Once that happens, I think things should sort themselves out. Lincecum should take the hill again on June 7th against the Reds in Cincinnati. It should be a challenging matchup for Lincecum. Not only are the Reds the 2nd best team in baseball on offense by wOBA — .352 team average, behind only the Yankees — but the Great American Ballpark has a reputation as a bit of a launching pad. If Lincecum can have a positive outing, it should go a long way to suppressing our fears.
I’ll be waiting and watching the changeup.