The unceremonious downfall of Tim Lincecum sent ripples throughout the baseball world. In addition to breaking the internet’s heart, it upended the natural order of the San Francisco Giants rotation. When this post-season began, Tim Lincecum was noticeably absent from the rotation. Despite a strong second half (results-wise), the skinny dude from outside Seattle found himself working out of the pen.
The trouble for Timmy was two-fold: in addition to losing velocity over the years, his fastball command seemed to abandon him, too. Be it overthrowing or a mechanical flaw, these two trends rendered Timmy less than effective. A shell of his former Cy Young self.
Relegated to the bullpen, struggling with his velocity (as the above graph from his Brooks Baseball player card demonstrates), Timmy needed to make a change – anything that might make him effective, as any team sending Barry Zito to start a playoff game needs a viable long man in their bullpen.
Lincecum’s solution? Nothing but change ups. Change ups all the time. Change ups for righties, change ups for everyone! The increased use of change ups to right-handers is quite significant, as Lincecum, like many pitchers, traditionally uses the change up sparingly to arm-sided batters.
From Brooks, here is Tim Lincecum’s 2012 pitch usage. 10% change ups to RHB overall, 20% in two strike counts.
Fast forward to October, where Timmy pitches out of the bullpen and isn’t expected to turn over a line up more than once. Here come the change ups!
53% of his pitches to right-handers with two strikes are change ups! We can talk about small sample size but, to me, this is indicative of a different process, not a different result. The number might skew high based on situation but this still represents a very new approach from Lincecum.
Take this encounter from the Division Series. Tim Lincecum faced Ryan Ludwick and put his new change up to good use.
This plate appearance is especially noteworthy since Timmy threw the change up when behind 2-1. After getting the noted fastball crusher to swing through a change up in a fastball count, he doubles up on the change 2-2, registering the tidy whiff to end the plate appearance.
The real test comes Thursday, when Lincecum may (or may not!) make his first start of the post-season. Can he keep the change ups rolling? Or, more importantly, can he survive without much in the way of a fastball?
We’ve all paid lip service to Tim Lincecum’s ability to “pitch” even without his best stuff. Not many pitchers win back-to-back Cy Young awards on pure stuff alone. The struggles Lincecum experienced this season could well prompt him to make some changes in his approach, narratively speaking. Or we’re seeing the stark difference between relief pitching and starting. A gimmicky approach isn’t the end of the world when a pitcher is asked to retire just six hitters
If Lincecum wants to go through an order twice, he will need to rely on more than just his change up to retire many of the Cardinals prolific right-handed mashers. His success in October at least affords Giants fans to rest easy, knowing Barry Zito is that much less likely to make another playoff start. Now if only they could figure out Madison Bumgarner….
Ed. Note – There is some debate as to the true nature of Tim Lincecum’s change up: is it really just a splitter? While the hurler himself insists it is a change up, his grip and the behaviour of the pitch suggests otherwise. The eternal debate: when it comes to pitch classification, who are we to tell a walking talking duck he ain’t a goose?