Tim Lincecum is pretty awesome. He’s been awesome since he got to the big leagues and continues to get awesomer. Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve seen him throw gems against good offensive teams (Atlanta and St. Louis), and I’m going to get another chance on Wednesday against Philadelphia. I noticed in his last start that his fastball was sitting around 90-92 mph, and I remembered him throwing harder in 2008 and 2009. It also seemed like he was relying on his changeup a lot more, and FanGraphs Pitchf/x data confirms it:
|2007||Giants||66.9% (94.2)||19.7% (80.6)||13.4% (84.4)||2.6%|
|2008||Giants||66.1% (94.1)||1.7% (84.5)||13.7% (79.6)||18.5% (83.7)||1.7%|
|2009||Giants||55.8% (92.4)||5.3% (82.0)||17.5% (76.7)||21.4% (83.2)||3.8%|
|2010||Giants||54.1% (91.4)||10.2% (83.3)||12.3% (77.3)||23.4% (84.3)||0.2%|
He’s using his fastball less and it’s getting slower. He throws almost as many offspeed pitches as fastballs. He’s relying more on his changeup, which used to be almost 10 mph slower than his fastball but is now only around 7. My thought on the changeup for all pitchers is that its effectiveness is based mostly on the difference in speed from the fastball. It’s a pitch that is supposed to look exactly the same, just slower. As it creeps closer in speed to the fastball, the deception wears away and it should lose effectiveness.
Not the case for Lincecum though; even though his fastball is 3 mph slower, he’s pitching as well as ever. Usually when pitchers lose velocity, the first thought is that he’s hurt or something is wrong mechanically. I don’t think we have to worry about that with Lincecum though. As the first table shows, he’s improved his home run and walk rate each year while still striking out about 10.5 hitters per nine innings. Striking out five times as many hitters as you walk is good too.
I heard that Lincecum actually throws two changeups; one that looks like a fastball but is slower, and one that acts more like a splitfinger and has some dive and some tail to it. This would make more sense; if true, he has two pitches that travel at the same speed but do different things. Maybe Lincecum took something off his fastball on purpose in an effort to throw more strikes. Maybe at 25 he can’t rear back and find the 97+ heat anymore (doubtful). Either way, he’s transformed from flamethrower to Maddux-esque after winning 2 Cy Youngs; it’s really a tribute to Lincecum that he’s still looking for ways to get better.
Editor’s Note: Maybe this post will get some of the Giants fans off my back.
Editor’s Note 2: Lincecum is an excellent case study for BABIP and FIP; he’s gotten better by walking fewer hitters and giving up fewer home runs. The BABIPs and LOB%’s vary slightly, but hang right around the league averages. You can be a really good pitcher without a lot of luck.