Lincecum on Another Level

When San Francisco Giants starter Tim Lincecum broke into the majors back in May of 2007, he was a mop-topped, rail thin kid firing mid-90’s bullets toward home plate. While he still might fit the physical description of a high school freshman, his pitching approach has changed drastically over the years.

During the 2007 season, Lincecum averaged 94.2 MPH with his fastball, throwing the pitch about 67 percent of the time while mixing in 81 MPH curveballs (thrown 20 percent) and 84 MPH changeups (13 percent). Take a look at his pitch selection since that point:

Lincecum’s fastball velocity has dipped nearly three MPH since 2007, and he’s going to the heat far less often. Instead, he’s increasingly relying upon what can only be described as a toxic changeup.

According to our pitch type run values, Timmy’s change has been worth +3.27 runs per 100 pitches over the past three calendar years. It’s the sort of offering that can cause batters to have an existential crisis at the dish: Lincecum has thrown the pitch for a strike 75.9 percent this season (60.7% MLB average). It has a 34.3 percent whiff rate (12.6% MLB average). The pitch has been swung at 69.9 percent of the time (48.1% MLB average), to no avail.

While the Pitch F/X data differs somewhat from the Baseball Info Solutions data in the chart above, we can see that Lincecum is going to a two-seam fastball a little over 16 percent of the time in 2010. Previously, Lincecum tossed a four-seamer with little horizontal movement but a good deal of “rising” action, relative to a pitch thrown without spin. That may help explain Lincecum’s career-high 50 percent ground ball rate this year.

Lincecum, sitting 91 MPH with a four-seamer and two-seamer and going to his change over a quarter of the time, is even harder to hit than his previous, higher-octane self. His contact rate, between 74 and 76% from 2006-2008, is just 70 percent this season (80-81% MLB average). That’s tied with rotation mate Jonathan Sanchez for the lowest mark in the majors. Lincecum’s swinging strike, which ranged from 10.3-11.8% from ’06 to ’08, sits at an obscene 14.4. Opposing hitters just can’t lay off his stuff: Lincecum has a major league-best 35.8 outside swing percentage in 2010. That blows away his 24-27% marks the previous three years, as well as the 27% big league average.

In 42.1 innings so far, Lincecum laps the field with a 1.98 expected FIP (xFIP). The closest competitor is Roy Halladay, at a still-ridiculous-but-distant 2.78. Lincecum is punching out 11.91 batters per nine innings (best among starters) and has issued just 1.7 BB/9. Aside from his cap (the only thing nastier than his than his changeup), Lincecum has changed just about everything since he debuted. And right now, he’s pitching at a different level than the competition.





A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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dustygator
13 years ago

He’s mastered the corner painting great pitchers with lesser fastballs are known for (think Maddux in his prime). Yesterday vs. the Marlins, he had four nasty looking Ks with fastballs that caught the bottom corners perfectly. And of course, his usually nasty changeup had batters falling down trying to hit it. Ubaldo will fall back to earth and Timmy will win a third straight Cy.

joser
13 years ago
Reply to  dustygator

Ubaldo? Who said anything about Ubaldo? The article correctly notes that Lincecum’s only competition (distant as it may be at the moment, though it’s a long season) is Halladay. But that’s in the real world; from a fantasy perspective (and the brown decor here reminds me we’re on the Roto-, not the Fan-, part of the ‘graphs site) yes Ubaldo is currently his closest competitor on most of the metrics like Ks that get used in typical roto leagues (though when it comes to rate stats like WHIP, try to ignore that Fister guy for a little longer)

Chris
13 years ago
Reply to  dustygator

You must be as high as Lincecum right now.

A large chunk of Ubaldo’s walks came out of one game: His no hitter! 6 BB’s in that game, and he was able to correct himself in the 6th. As long as he can continue to adjust like he’s shown us so far this season he’ll be hard to top.

joser
13 years ago
Reply to  Chris

No one is as high as Lincecum. (He’s won two CYs in a row and is making millions.)

SharksRog
13 years ago
Reply to  dustygator

Tim still struggles a bit with his control, as I guess is the case with almost every pitcher from time to time. But for a guy who was walking over six per nine innings in college just five years ago, he now has his walk rate below two.

My point is that while he did indeed do some fine corner painting Tuesday night, he also has had a season-long issue with missing the strike zone high and inside to right-handed hitters. He has thrown fewer than half his pitches in the strike zone and has thrown just over half his first pitches for strikes.

I have felt since he first came to the majors that most of his improvement would come from better control. In reality much of it has come from his developing his change up into the best pitch in the game.

I have been impressed in recent starts that he has occasionally shaken off the fastball into the change up despite having three balls on the hitter. The good part of that is that he is increasing his confidence in throwing the change up for strikes. The negative part is that his confidence in throwing his fastball for strikes isn’t quite as high as we would hope he could pitch to.

If Tim has indeed turned the corner, so to speak, on corner painting, it will indeed help him be even better than what he has accomplished already in becoming the best pitcher in baseball. I do think it is something he is still working on, but you are correct that he got some nice results in doing so Tuesday.