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April 26, 2012

Raising Aces

A Tale of Two Timmys

by Doug Thorburn

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Tim Lincecum is in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his career, laboring through the first month of the season and entering Monday's outing in New York with an ERA in the double digits. Many pitchers struggle to coordinate their delivery out of the gate, and we have seen the Freak lose his mojo before, though there have been only two calendar months in Lincecum's career in which he pitched to an ERA above 5.00. He had very similar issues back in August 2010, with diminished velocity and a weakened delivery that threatened to derail the Giants' title hopes, but Lincecum rediscovered his mechanics down the stretch and simply dominated into the playoffs.

The first frame of Monday's outing was encouraging, and though his timing was off with the first few deliveries, Lincecum spent the rest of the inning mixing low-90s fastballs with an assortment of breaking balls and splitters that found Buster Posey's targets. Giants announcer Mike Krukow gushed about the right-hander's newfound ability to reach his full extension at release point, an element that had eluded Lincecum in previous outings. His splitter was rolling off the table, and the early strikeout of Daniel Murphy (top) summoned memories of Timmy's better days, such as when he was striking out fourteen Braves in the 2010 NLDS (bottom).

Lincecum's first pitch of the second inning was a well-timed fastball located for a strike up and away from Ike Davis, but the next three pitches were a progression of under-rotated pitches that drifted further away from the lefty, foreshadowing issues to come. Timmy regained his composure to strike out Davis, finishing him off with a pair of vicious 85-mph splitters, the last of which caught Ike looking for the backwards K. Lincecum continued to impress with his pitch command, though Buster Posey was establishing a pattern of squatting on the outside edge of the zone against left-handed batters. Lincecum did battle with his timing late in the second, allowing a walk to Ruben Tejada (who promptly stole second) and then watching Mike Baxter pull an outside breaking ball down the right-field line for a run-scoring double.

The scoreboard may not have shown it, but things began to unravel for Lincecum in the bottom of the third. Posey continued to set up camp outside the zone, a spot that was nigh impossible for Timmy to locate against right-handed batters and which resulted in a bevy of under-rotated fastballs versus lefties. The pitch command of the first couple innings evaporated, and Lincecum's momentum was inconsistent as he toyed with the timing of foot strike, disrupting the rotation of the shoulders, which rely on foot-strike timing to fire in sequence. The third-inning plate appearance by Lucas Duda was a prime example, with Lincecum over-rotating on an inside breaking ball that found dirt (picture on the left) before sailing an under-rotated fastball for ball four (picture on the right). 

No more runners would cross home plate against Lincecum, but his struggles were apparent to everyone wearing orange-and-black, with numerous full counts and missed targets masquerading as a strikeout-heavy stat line. The levee was on the verge of breaking in the bottom of the fifth, when Timmy walked Duda again to load the bases with one out. At this point, Posey had all but abandoned setting up any target that was not on the outside edge to a lefty, and after four straight pitches on the outer half (three of which were fastballs), Lincecum caught too much plate on another heater that Davis ripped to the right of the second-base bag. Emmanuel Burriss showed great range before dishing the no-look flip to Brandon Crawford, who bare-handed the reception and tossed to first for the rally-killing double-play. Another 6-12 inches to the left, and Timmy would have been staring down the barrel of a 6-3 game with one out and runners on the corners.

Pitch Statistics

Pitch Type

Avg Speed

Max Speed

Avg H-Break

Avg V-Break

Count

Strikes / %

Whiffs / %

Linear Weights

 

FF (FourSeam Fastball)

89.82

91.9

0.58

9.73

55

36 / 65.45%

6 / 10.91%

-0.1929

 

CH (Changeup)

83.77

86.1

-3.28

2.16

21

7 / 33.33%

2 / 9.52%

0.5967

 

SL (Slider)

83.33

84.9

2.05

-0.68

13

7 / 53.85%

0 / 0.00%

-0.3594

 

CU (Curveball)

78.60

79

2.65

-6.09

4

2 / 50.00%

0 / 0.00%

-0.2290

 

FT (TwoSeam Fastball)

89.73

90.8

-4.90

8.12

15

8 / 53.33%

3 / 20.00%

-0.4204

 

Pitch classifications provided by the Gameday Algorithm.

Lincecum was a different pitcher in the fourth and fifth innings. His velocity was down in the 88-to-90-mph range, and yet his pitch selection became increasingly fastball-heavy, with the split nearly disappearing from his arsenal (Gameday classifies his split as a changeup). According to the fantastic resource at Brooks Baseball, Lincecum tossed 17 of his 21 splitters in the first three innings, and he went to either the 4-seam or the 2-seam fastball 56.7 percent of the time during those frames. The fastball percentage shot up to 78.0 percent over his final two innings, the splitters virtually disappeared, and his breaking ball rate went down from 17.9 percent early to 12.2 percent over the last six outs. The trend was completely backward, as most pitchers will lean on the heat early in the game before unveiling a growing diet of secondary pitches after the first time through the order. However, Posey trimmed the options once Lincecum lost the reins on his delivery.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

45

Momentum

70

Torque

50

Posture

40

Release Distance

60

Repetition

40

Lincecum has been the poster boy for elite momentum throughout his career, breaking the 80 ceiling to establish an insanely deep release point, but inconsistencies plagued him on Monday to the point of weakening his greatest strengths. Even lacking his fifth gear, his momentum is far above average, but his own previously established baseline leaves him short of a perfect score. Never known for strong posture, Lincecum's considerable glove-side spine-tilt is a fixture of his delivery and an element that can further suffer as the right-hander becomes fatigued, acting to stunt his release distance and deter pitch command. His delivery is at its best when balance and posture are maximized, but dynamic balance was a weak link in Lincecum's delivery this week, with a head that trailed the center of mass throughout his performance against the Mets.

His depth of release point is greatly aided by a long stride that results from both the outstanding momentum and his technique of gliding the lead foot along the slope of the mound to delay the impact into foot strike. Lincecum has excellent hip-shoulder separation when everything is clicking, including a pronounced shoulder-load and a good delay of rotation, but the relative misfiring of hips and shoulders limited his torque in his most recent outing.

Monday's start was a step in the right direction, with glimpses of the dominant Tim Lincecum obscured by relentless battles with his mechanics. Lincecum has historically been a player who visibly wears down during a game, with balance and posture that gets worse as the game progresses, and the fatigue set in early against New York. He has a very complicated delivery that is high in kinetic energy and which requires precise coordination to execute. Lincecum needs to have outstanding functional strength and flexibility to preserve his mechanics with consistency for 100 repetitions every fifth day, and based on his most recent performance I have to make the same prognosis as in August 2010, that perhaps there is a conditioning solution at the core of his mechanical woes.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

Related Content:  Tim Lincecum,  Mechanics

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Marycontardi

With my immature observation, I looked at a pitcher from a power/finesse angle. Country heat and devastating breaking pitches equaled above average potential per say. I knew there was more to it, just difficult to qualify/quantify the how and why. These types of analysis are both educational and exciting for a fan of my stature. The Mechanics Reports Card is quite interesting. Keep 'em coming!

Also, the pitching and catching evaluations you spoke of at the Emeryville event were fantastic.


Great work Doug!

Apr 26, 2012 08:55 AM
rating: 3
 
Matt

Great breakdown, thanks.

Apr 26, 2012 11:11 AM
rating: 2
 
Llarry

Great breakdown. It looks to me like the key is Krukow's comment about "full extension at release". In the first two clips it's almost like he's trying to hand the ball to Posey. In the third (overrotate), he doesn't extend the arm as far, and then lets the ball go too late; in the fourth (underrotate), he never gets that far, and has already released the ball.

To my eye, it also seems that in 3 and 4, the arm has dropped a little from the vertical (even as the shoulder angle varies).

I had a couple of exchanges in years past with Will Carroll about Timmy. It (surprisingly) doesn't show as much from the CF angle, but when you watch him from 1B, the impression he's always given me is of coming so far over the top that it's like he needs to bend his back to get his head out of the way.

Apr 26, 2012 16:34 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

Good observations Larry, and there are many pitchers who look like they get the "head out of the way" while the arm comes through in order to get on top. It is exactly that sacrifice of posture that is necessary to support an over-the-top slot, and while the flow of causation puts spine-tilt before arm slot, the instruction often goes the other way.

Apr 28, 2012 22:46 PM
 
Leg4206

So, is it safe to say that all high arm slot pitchers generally grade lower on posture, or are there examples of some high arm slot pitchers with good posture?

Also, how do you obtain the side views which seem necessary to evaluate balance, momentum and release point?

May 01, 2012 15:25 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

High arm-slot pitchers quite often have poor posture, but it is not an absolute. Some pitchers have a higher degree of natural shoulder elevation (abduction), and can generate a higher slot while maintaining strong posture. Roger Clemens is a great example of a pitcher who had excellent posture in addition to a high arm slot.

A present-day example is Ubaldo Jimenez, who has decent posture and a relatively high slot, while Brewers 1st round pick Jed Bradley is a more extreme example of a high intrinsic arm slot combined with strong posture.

Side views can be hard to come by, and as you note, they are advantageous in the evaluation of balance, momentum, stride, and release point (not to mention torque). There tend to be a couple of side-shots during a typical game (particularly with men on base), and I like to use the insane database of pictures at Getty Images for reference when the game feeds fall short.

http://www.gettyimages.com

May 01, 2012 18:04 PM
 
SaberTJ

Doug,

Question for you. Do all Major League pitching coaches know enough about pitcher mechanics to help solve their pitchers timing and release point issues etc...? These kind of topics are never discussed (atleast in the media) when new pitching coaches are hired so it made me wonder.

Thanks for the endless stream of great analysis.

Apr 28, 2012 12:22 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Doug Thorburn
BP staff

TJ,

The variation in philosophy among pitching coaches is pretty wide and those philosophies are often kept close to the vest. Some guys are almost completely hands-off with mechanics (Leo Mazzone), while others are biomechanical geniuses (Rick Peterson), and those who are into mechanics might focus on very different things.

The greatest common denominator among MLB pitching coaches is an in-depth knowledge of their pitchers, such that they can quickly identify when something is off vs. when things are clicking, and do so based on an evaluation of process over outcome. The difference is how they choose to fix things when they inevitably do go wrong.

Thanks for the great question.

Apr 28, 2012 23:10 PM
 
Robotey

yeah, Rick 'I can fix him in 5 minutes' Peterson. I'm sure he helped plenty of Mets but that wouldn't undo the damage he caused by promising to 'fix' Victor Zambrano

May 01, 2012 00:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Cris Whetstone

Looks like there has been no progress. He's been a three inning pitcher this year. He can't seem to locate the strike zone after that.

May 25, 2012 18:27 PM
rating: 0
 
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