Originally posted on 1313 Sports  |  Last updated 4/17/12

Tim Lincecum had yet another shaky start last night against the Phillies and although things seemed to settle down over his last 5 innings, the concerns over what is wrong have not. After his first three starts, Lincecum sits at 0-2 with an ERA of 10.54  with a WHIP of 1.90. Last night was the longest start of the year for Lincecum as he lasted 6 innings as opposed to the 7.2 combined he pitched over his first two games. Not a good start for the Giants ace who signed a 2 year $40.5 million contract this past January.

Many skeptics, including myself,  scoffed at the deal, citing his gradual velocity decrease as the cause. The reports from Spring Training did nothing to quell those concerns. When you hear a pitcher’s fastball is dropping velocity from an average of 94.67 MPH down to the 88-90 MPH Lincecum was throwing in the Spring it’s hard not imagine something being wrong with his shoulder. More specifically his labrum. The Giants are still claiming that Lincecum is healthy, but an interview with Bruce Bochy on April 1st has me doubting that he doesn’t have some case of dead arm or minor tears developing. It turns out the elbow is the issue receiving the most stress. The interview stated that Lincecum was putting the slider in his back pocket. Bochy made reference to the fact that it was adding unneeded stress on Tim’s elbow, while Lincecum claimed that he doesn’t need the pitch in his repertoire which is something I disagree with, especially with the loss of velocity.  As was mentioned above a loss in velocity is a cause for concern in the labrum area of the shoulder while a loss of control indicates there may be issues with the elbow. If neither is stated as injured, mechanics are the next thing to look at. Nobody seems to have a definitive answer so I had to take a closer look.

As a fan of Lincecum’s  I tuned in to all 3 of his starts to see if these worries are unwarranted or not. All while keeping a close eye on his Pitch F/X Data over at Brooks Baseball. Combining what I saw with my own eyes and the  data charts and graphs from Brooks, several things jumped out at me which I will outline below with the some graphics to provide visual support.

From Lincecum’s first pitch in the opener vs the Diamondbacks I immediately thought that Lincecum was short arming the ball. There is a huge difference between a pitcher throwing through his catcher’s mitt and throwing to it. This is  something I was sure I was seeing.  It almost looked as if Lincecum was aiming  his pitches which generally leads to control problems. Lincecum isn’t walking an alarming rate of hitters with just 4 BB’s in his 13.2 IP, but this doesn’t paint the entire picture for us. His fastball has seen an increase in Balls called from 36% to 44%. The two-seamer shows a 3% increase in the Balls/Strike category as well. He is however recording a higher first pitch strike % this year with a huge jump from 53% to 65%.  With advanced scouting reports I’m certain hitters are aware of this and may explain Lincecum’s problems last night in the early innings. If you are recording strikes on 65% of your first pitches while still throwing balls on 44% of your fastballs, well you are obviously gripping and ripping at a 1st pitch fastball when you see it. So we are saying his control is OK, but his command is a different story. When I speak of control I am referring to balls/strikes and walks. Command, on the other hand refers to a pitcher’s ability to paint and avoid the middle part of the plate. Below is a pitch control chart from last night’s game. The type of pitch and the number of the pitch in a batter’s sequence are included.

 

As you can see a rather large chunk of pitches are hitting the middle of the plate. Look again at the left side of the chart. This would be the outside corner to lefties and the inside corner to righties. 2 pitches, yes that’s right just 2 were in the strike zone last night. If I filter these charts vs LHH or RHH it paints a more troubling picture.

Not a single change-up for a strike last night and nary an attempt to regain control of the strike zone inside. Hey as I said these are MLB hitters and having a strategy this predictable is never going to produce positive results. If you watched his start last night you may remember Laynce Nix and Galvis ripping doubles down the right field line. Both of were hit very hard on the 1st pitch green dots in the middle of this graph. This is just one problem I have seen.

Lincecum’s mechanics seem to be a bit out of whack as well. His release points are off both vertically and horizontally and I believe this is the real root of the problem. It has affected his velocity, break and command. Most of you may remember the dollar bill exercise that Tim learned from his father where he would pick up a dollar off the ground on his follow through. This helped him develop that long stride and kept his release points higher and tighter to his body thus creating downhill movement and allowed him to stay on top of the ball adding break to his change-up, curve and slider. Below are two more tables illustrating these changes in release points and breaks. I used Lincecum’s 2010 season as the first one and 2012 as the second as there wasn’t a huge change between 2010 & 2011.

 Table Glossary: Horizontal and Vertical Break and Movement are measured in inches with Gravity being taken into effect on the Vertical.

The measurement uses on release points are feet with Zero being the middle of the plate on the horizontal y-axis and the decimals being measured in inches. Anything registering a negative release point means its on the arm side of the plate or outside to a left handed hitter.

2010

Pitch Frequency Hztl Brk Vrtcl Brk MPH Hztl Rlse Pt Vrtcl Rlse Pt 4-Seam 32% 0.95 -12.37 92.11 -0.88 6.46 2-Seam 22% -5.99 -13.89 91.87 -1.01 6.43 Slider 9% 3.71 -32.50 84.15 -1.12 6.29 Curve 11% 5.81 -46.46 78.16 -0.94 6.37 Change-up 25% -2.59 -27.10 84.50 -1.16 6.36

 2012

Pitch Frequency Hztl Brk Vrtcl Brk MPH Hztl Rlse Pt Vrtcl Rlse Pt 4-Seam 34% 0.58 -13.25 90.96 -0.98 6.27 2-Seam 13% -5.24 -14.42 90.98 -1.05 6.24 Slider 9% 4.33 -31.29 84.80 -1.47 6.20 Curve 13% 4.69 -44.21 79.03 -0.97 6.17 Change-up 31% -0.71 -28.06 83.58 -1.17 6.04

The first thing I should mention is up until last night when Timmy threw 30 sliders he was throwing the pitch at a rate of 1% of his total pitches thrown. So much for not needing that pitch in his repertoire. He should keep throwing because it looked great. The release point drop of 3 inches helped him get more break across the plate but I have a feeling it is affecting the change-up. More on that later. A 4 inch difference in release points from the slider in comparison to the rest of his repertoire can eventually result in tipping his pitches. When MLB hitters are looking in the same general area for the ball to come out and one pitch is being released 3-5 inches further out than the rest, they will notice. The throwing shoulder will definitely dip a bit and the ball will be visible earlier  indicating the slider is on the way.

We already knew that there was a gradual decline in MPH for Lincecum over the last few years so no surprises there. His fastballs continue to drop downhill which is a good sign considering the release point  has dropped nearly 2 inches per pitch. The drop in MPH plus the command issues appear to be resulting in more contact. In 2010 he recorded swinging misses on 18% of his 2 seam sinking fastballs which is down to just 7% this season. The amount of line drives being allowed by Lincecum has also increased significantly with the velocity drop & command issues. In 2010 hitters recorded a 21.50% line drive rate on balls in play vs the 4 seamer and 26% vs the 2 seamer. In 2012 those numbers have risen to 36%. The 2 seamer has seen less of a line drive rate but he is also very uncomfortable throwing it as the rate of sinking 2 seamers thrown has dropped from 22% to my favorite number 13.

What should have us very concerned is the change in his break  on the curve-ball and change-up, both of which The Freak uses as punch out pitches and to induce ground balls. The lack of movement away from lefties on the change is rather alarming losing almost 2 inches of tail on the pitch, although he seems to be getting more drop gaining roughly an inch. Dropping down nearly 3 inches on his release point on this pitch may be causing a lack of tail due to an inability to properly get his fore-arm to snap over, not to mention makes the pitch grip more visible to skilled hitters.

The hammer has lost an inch of movement from left to right as well, but Tim’s curve is more of the 12/6 variety so not a huge problem. Losing 2 inches of drop on the other hand is the difference between delivering an 0-2, or 1-2 curve into the dirt for a swinging miss and a hitter being able to get the bat head on it or simply foul it off.  Basically it looks a lot flatter and doesn’t have as tight of a spin. Anyone have a coat for that hanger?

With a drop in velocity on the heater but no significant drop in MPH on his change-up, what was formerly a 12 MPH disparity early in his career  has slowly but surely shrunk to 8 MPH and now 7 MPH making the change-up much more hittable. He may have to add some friction to the ball reducing his change-up speed if he can’t regain an MPH on his cheese.

Tim Lincecum’s change/slider combo is also a deadly duo. Think about both pitches at similar speeds coming from the same release points with one breaking left to right at 3 inches and the other breaking right to left at around 2.6 inches. As a hitter your best bet is guessing at that point. Now with the change-up barely breaking at all away from lefties it starts to look more like a flat slider and loses a lot of that Bugs Bunny effect. A hitter is no longer worried about is as much and can look for the backdoor slider with less fear that it will never come back towards you. This change in horizontal movement removes the effectiveness of throwing these pitches back to back. More visuals on the breaks & trajectories from above the playing field so you can see how these pitches criss-cross? What the heck why not.

vs LHH

 

 

 vs RHH

Add up all of these factors and you can start to see why he is struggling. He is leaving pitches over the middle of the plate or missing on the 3rd base side of the plate putting him in hitter friendly counts. This is where that horizontal release point comes into play. He has lost velocity on his fastball thus losing the change in speeds between his heat and off-speed pitches. The break on his change is gone yet he has thrown 101 change-ups this year which almost equals the 109 fastballs he has thrown. He has no confidence in his sinking fastball grip or command which basically removes 1 whole pitch from his closet of tricks. The curve is flat and not dropping as much resulting in a less dangerous 0-2 put away pitch and the slider puts stress on his elbow which is why he wanted to scrap the pitch until later in the season. When he does throw it he is dropping down which is something that hitters can pick up on. All in all a Perfect Storm of problems happening all at the same time.

There is some good news and if you are a Giants fan, a Lincecum fan or a Fantasy owner with the ace pitcher on your team this should bring a smile to your face. There are no reported injuries yet so we should expect his arm will get stronger as the season progresses meaning some of those MPH will increase. There is absolutely no way all of these problems can persist at the same time fora talent such as TL55 nor is there any way opponents will have a .426 BABIP all year and he is still striking out 10.54 hitters per 9 IP while walking just 2.63/9 IP. The grip and command of his sinking fastball will come back and help add more flexibility to his in-game strategies which can only help. I believe with some minor tweaks in his release points especially horizontally will help him regain some of that lost movement and help his elbow stay closer to his body reducing any strains he may feel. The only questions left to ask is when the heck will these improvements take place and  do you have enough patience to withstand any extended time? Maybe the last 5 innings last night are a sign of things to come.

In the end I am confident that Tim Lincecum can make the necessary adjustments to succeed, what I am wondering is after seeing all of this information if you feel the same way. Feel free to let me know what you think below.

 

 

 

 

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