Your Wednesday graph comes a little late this week. This week’s graph is the seasonal percentage of Lincecum’s pitch-types — and their usage — and his whiff% on said pitch-types.
I’ll note here that I didn’t include Tim’s slider into this discussion. It’s definitely the 4th pitch in his arsenal and something that he’s only throwing 5-6% right now. For the sake of simplicity, I wanted to focus on his three main pitches: the fastball, curveball, and changeup. All pitch-type ID’s are using the MLAB algorithm (meaning I did not classify them myself) and sometimes, as history has shown, they can be a little wonky. Also, I’ve lumped all of his fastballs into one generic category. Tim throws both a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball.
The top graph represents the usage by pitch-type for Lincecum this season. Like most pitchers, Tim works heavily off the fastball — he’s throwing it 57.3% of the time. As you can see, the graph shows a slight uptick in fastball usage as the season has gone on. On 6/16/10 his yearly FB% sat at 51.7%. Over his next 10 starts, Lincecum threw his fastball more and boosted the yearly percentage to the 57.3%. That’s a increase of almost 6%. It appears that Lincecum is making an effort to throw his fastball more. Why? That’s an excellent question. One has to wonder if it’s related to his mechanics.
Our other points of interest are the changeup and curveball. The changeup has become Tim’s #2 pitch and it’s current usage sits at 21.8%. He’s backed off of it’s usage slightly — at 5/31 the yearly percentage sat at 23.5% — but it’s still something he’s going to throw 20%, or slightly more, of the time. It’s for good reason, too. His changeup has become one of the better pitches in baseball. The curveball is interesting. Before I ran the numbers, I expected it’s usage to have a slight uptick as the season has progressed. I seem to recall seeing more curves from Lincecum while watching games on TV, but the usage line for the hook looks pretty steady — ranging from 15-17% for most of the year. Tim’s curveball usage currently sits at 16.6%.
I really like how the Whiff% graph turned out. Whiffs are defined as anytime a batter swings at a pitch and misses (foul tips are included). If you’re interested in what a league average whiff-rate is for certain pitch-types, check out Harry Pavlidis’ extremely useful ‘Benchmarks for pitch types‘ post on The Hardball Times. I will be referencing it a couple of times in this post. Lincecum’s changeup is a monster. It’s yearly whiff-rate currently sits at 42.8%. According to Harry’s benchmarks, the league average CH has a whiff-rate of 30.7%. Lincecum’s changeup is getting whiffs at nearly +12% over the league average changeup. I wondered how the changeup would look with some of Tim’s recent struggles, but the pitch still appears to be an above-average pitch. That should comfort us some since Lincecum’s changeup has grown to be an important part of his success as a pitcher. Just don’t call it a trick pitch and we’ll be fine.
Fastballs rarely get whiffs and, in fact, Tim’s whiff-rate on his fastball of 17.1% is slightly better than the league average 15% for 2-seam/4-seam fastballs. His curveball whiff-rate (20.9%) is below the league average whiff-rate (26.1%) for the pitch.
It’s still way too easy to freak out over Lincecum’s recent struggles. The good news it that his changeup still looks like a very, very good pitch. It’s one that batters will swing at, and miss, nearly 40% of the time. That’s incredible. Right now, in season, he’s throwing his fastball more and it’s anyone’s guess as to why. It’s easy to panic when Lincecum get’s hit hard by a struggling Cubs team. I think it’s human nature to assume the worst sometimes. But Lincecum is still on pace to break 5 wins this season — in terms of WAR — and maybe even 6. That’s a top pitcher and while it’s not in the 7-8 win range he posted in both CYA years, it’s a huge asset to the team. Let’s just leave it at that for now. He’s a huge asset to this team regardless of velocity or wins or any of the other sports talk radio fodder.