The early-season struggles of two-time National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum are now officially a mid-season concern. The erstwhile San Francisco Giants ace was shelled once again in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates and was saddled with his 10th loss of the season in the final game before the All-Star break.
Lincecum notoriously has had difficulty pitching in high temperatures throughout his career, but his 2012 struggles go much deeper than his recent starts on the East Coast. On Sunday, Lincecum was knocked out in the fourth inning after giving up six earned runs on seven hits, including two doubles and two home runs.
Lincecum enters the break with a 3-10 record and a 6.42 ERA. Out of 101 MLB starters who qualify for the ERA title, Lincecum ranks dead last. Lincecum has been his worst on the road, holding a 1-6 record with a whopping 9.00 ERA in away games. The Giants are 4-14 in 2012 when Lincecum pitches.
As Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area points out, the Giants have not had a 10-game loser before the All-Star break since 2008, when Barry Zito posted a 4-12 record with a 5.62 ERA before the midsummer classic. Lincecum's current ERA is nearly a full run higher than Barry Zito's terrible first half in 2008. That's probably cause for alarm.
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Dave Righetti is one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game, both by traditional and statistical measures. He's also one of the more candid coaches in the game, and if you get him on the right day, he'll open up.
"Now he’s got to concentrate more – pretty much the whole time he’s out there. They’re basically sitting (offspeed) when he’s not getting his fastball in a good location. And that seems to be happening at a moment’s notice with no rhyme or reason. So that tells you it doesn’t matter who’s hitting. It’s not a certain type of hitter. It can be anybody standing there at that moment when he’s lost himself a little bit and can’t get the ball where he wants to."
The whole article is worth a read, but the main point of Righetti's is that the problem is with Lincecum's head, not his arm.
"It’s never his arm," Righetti said. "In fact, his arm has never bothered him since I’ve been here. With him it’s normally a finger or a nail or he’s overworked and we try to take it easy on him. … But there’s nothing alarming or nothing I’m hiding from you."
This isn't the first time that Lincecum has struggled in his career. But it's the longest stretch of struggling he's endured so far.
Tim Lincecum has had bouts with his velocity before -- go here and look at the green dots hovering around the 90-m.p.h. line -- but it's still unusual for him to open a season with a fastball this diminished.
Once a freak, Lincecum has become mortal. The stuff he’s had this season is nowhere near the stuff he once dominated with.
The biggest difference between 2012 Lincecum and Cy Lincecum is that Cy Lincecum could get you out with four pitches, while 2012 Lincecum may only be able to get you out with one.
It's an interesting article. My only quibble would be the decision to match Lincecum up with his 2009 season at the expense of his 2010 and 2011 seasons, which also featured spells of reduced velocity. Lincecum didn't win the Cy Young in either season, but he did pick up Cy Young votes, which suggests that he's a pitcher who might have the ability to succeed with a shorter fastball.
But if the question is, "Does Lincecum have the same Cy Young stuff as when he last won the award?", Foster makes a discouraging and persuasive case that he does not.
Tim Lincecum had his best outing of the year on Monday, allowing just one run over five innings.
Tim Lincecum had his worst outing of the year on Monday, walking five in five innings, and going to deep counts on just about every hitter.
You could make both arguments, though the first one is probably more conventional. Lincecum has had a rough start to the season, giving up almost as many earned runs in his first four starts as he did in April and May of last year. And while Lincecum felt his outing was an improvement, Danny Knobler talked to some scouts who weren't as impressed:
Here's something else I'm not sure about: Is Lincecum healthy? He says he is, but there are already whispers around the game that his hip is bothering him. And his performance Monday left the scouts thinking that something could be wrong, because he wasn't able to drive towards the plate with his usual strength.
"There's no power in his legs," one scout said.
Knobler notes Lincecum's similar struggles in 2010, but also notest that there are "whispers" of a hip injury that hasn't been reported yet. If Lincecum's velocity and/or effectiveness doesn't return in his next start, you can be sure there will be more articles like Knobler's.
It's 2012, and Tim Lincecum has gotten off to a pretty lousy start. His average velocity is down, and he's been getting hit. Through just three starts this season, Lincecum's already allowed more runs than he did in the first half in 2009. Not really, but look how much time of yours I wasted while you fact-checked that assertion. I am in control of you!
Naturally, with Lincecum previously having been good and currently being not good, there are a lot of articles being written about what the matter might be. Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron examines the recent history of April velocity dips and performance declines, and it'd be a good piece for you to read if you're a Giants fan, or a friend of Lincecum's, or somebody who's about to use drugs. Read this, instead of using drugs.
The velocity is still a legitimate concern, and will be until if comes back, if it ever does. The hits and home runs are a less legitimate concern, but not something that we can completely ignore. They’re just a minor consideration given the amount of data we’re dealing with. Just beware of combining the two issues and deciding that their dual presence is definitively a sign of a larger problem. It might be, it might not be. It certainly wasn’t for Sabathia, Lester, or Vazquez.
That's the conclusion. Before the conclusion, Cameron looks at 2008 CC Sabathia, 2009 Jon Lester, 2009 Jake Peavy, 2009 Javier Vazquez, and 2011 Ryan Dempster. It's a limited sample of comparisons, but the point is that Lincecum might not be all bollocksed, just because he's looked bollocksed so far. Things have historically had a way of evening out.