First of all…Tim Lincecum, I want to say Congratulations…and Thank You. I know that the relationship between you and the fans hasn’t been so clean the last couple of seasons, but we are still rooting for you, and we appreciate that you are still working on your art and craft, and doing it so that Giants fans can appreciate it, rather than some who don’t, and wait until they can find a new situation to try and be happier.
That was an amazing game, an amazing moment, and a not-at-all surprising but still worthwhile achievement. So, congrats, and thanks.
Okay, here’s the thing about pitch count fears, and what I worry about in the aftermath of that game
The worry about a pitch count is not that an arm, or shoulder, or pitcher is just going to explode after the 127th pitch. That’s silly, and it would be unlikely to actually happen.
What I worry about is the longer-term effects.
When Matt Cain went a season-high 125 pitches last year for his Perfect Game, his ERA dropped to 2.18. Now, 125 pitches isn’t exactly a ridiculous number, it’s right around that point that makes people uncomfortable, but not crazy. But Cain gave up less than three runs only twice in his next seven starts, and his ERA kept rising until mid-August, when he returned to form, allowing more than two runs only once in his final 10 regular season starts.
That backslide was a little disturbing. We called it a hangover, but was it more?
Let’s look at Edwin Jackson. Jackson went 149 pitches in 2006, the highest no-hitter pitch count recorded, one more than Lincecum.
It’s a good comparison. Jackson did his on June 30th, close to the same time of the season as Lincecum. Jackson had gone a little over 120 pitches a couple of times that season. But, also, Jackson wasn’t having the best season, having a 5.05 ERA going into his no-hitter. Lincecum was at 4.61.
After that no-hitter, Jackson gave up at least four earned runs in each of his next five starts. His ERA ballooned from 4.63 right after the no-hitter, to 5.16 at the end of July. Jackson did return to form in August, but again, there’s that string of rough starts after an unusually long pitch count.
Of course, there are key differences. Mostly that Tim Lincecum is Lincecum. He’s got an unusual throwing motion. He doesn’t ice. And, Lincecum will get an extra-long break between starts with the All-Star Break, which is something I can’t find a precedent to look at.
So let’s look at what we can. In 2008, Lincecum threw a then-career-high 132 pitches on August 27th, going 7 2/3 innings, giving up one run. His very next start, he matched a career high with five runs given up. However, he bounced back, giving up just one earned run in his next start, and then, going for a complete game shutout and throwing a new career-high 138 pitches. Two starts later, he gives up a new career-high in runs, with six.
In 2011, a Tim Lincecum more like the current one threw 133 pitches on May 21st against Oakland in a complete game shutout. After that, he gave up three runs, five runs, four runs and then had a seven run, four-inning start. But, he bounced back.
I’m worried about a slide after this outing. I think there’s plenty of evidence to see that coming. And I worry that the Giants can’t survive Tim having a slide in performance for a month.
That said…I’m still glad he didn’t get taken out sooner. I wouldn’t have done anything different. No-Hitter, baby!