So I know I’m a bit late to the whole Tim Lincecum declining-thing and it’s been dissected and analyzed about, well, ten-thousand times. But I wanted to dive in myself and find out what the hell is really going on with The Freak. Is this decline a permanent thing? Or is this just a bump in the road?
Above everything else there are two things that we definitively know at this point: Lincecum scrapped his slider at some point earlier this year and his average fastball velocity is down, from 92.2 MPH last season to 90.3 MPH this season. And there’s perhaps one additional thing that can be inferred through a Bruce Bochy comment too.
The slider, according to Bochy, “puts a little more stress on his arm,” which is very true of any pitcher. But he immediately followed that up with: “He probably wants to wait to break it out later.” Now that sounds an awful like Lincecum may be dealing with some type of minor elbow irritation, though his manager tried to dispel that too.
I don’t really know either way, but there’s more than likely a health related cause for ditching the slider that the team is not saying publicly.
Now it’s time to look at the actual numerical breakdown.
Through three starts Lincecum is sporting a horrific 10.54 ERA, to go along with a 10.54 K/9, 2.63 BB/9, 1.32 HR/9, .426 BABIP, 43.1% LOB, and a 16.7% HR/FB. There’s both a lot of good and a lot of bad buried in there. Let’s see how those numbers stack up against early totals throughout his career:
Ignoring his ERA for a moment and focusing on the peripherals, Lincecum’s strikeout and walk rates – albeit in a very, very small sample size – are close proximities of his career norms, as are his groundball rate, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. The only outliers are ridiculously high homerun, BABIP, and LOB% rates.
And guess what? Those won’t remain anything close to where they are by the end of the season. They are, in fact, completely unsustainable and will progress back towards his career norms.
Personally, I would be worried if Lincecum’s declining fastball also resulted in lower strikeout numbers, higher walk totals, and more fly balls. They haven’t. And he’s actually drawing a higher swing percentage this year, 47.4%, than at any other point in his entire career.
Too much is being made of over this decline in velocity. Plus, his stride, according to this SI article by Tom Verducci, also makes his fastball actually look faster than what it really is. See, Lincecum strides 129% of his total body height – approximately 7.5 feet – and most pitchers land between 77% and 87%. He’s essentially cutting down the length between home plate and the mound.
So even if his average fastball is 90.3 MPH it still looks like 92 or 93.
Basically, I’m not whatsoever convinced by 13 horribly unlucky innings by the right-hander and neither should you. Maybe he does have a little inflammation or tendonitis in the elbow. Fine. But obviously it’s not bad enough for the Giants to limit his innings so I’m not that concerned. Look for him to plow through a few good games in the future and all will be right in the world of Tim Lincecum baseball.
For attempted humor, snarky comments, and baseball updates follow the site on Twitter, @ReleasePoints.