Philadelphia Phillies v San Francisco Giants

It is tough to establish new ground when discussing Tim Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young award winner has been analyzed, dissected, and scrutinized to within an inch of his life over the past three years. What is wrong with Tim Lincecum? What will become of Tim Lincecum?

While he isn’t the pitcher he was in years past, he is still a very good and very exciting starter. Only four other qualified starters manage his strikeout, ground ball, and swinging strike rates this season. Each pitcher on that list can play for me any time.

Despite his unorthodox mechanics, Tim Lincecum was a very conventional pitcher when it came to his plan of attack. He blew hitters away with his mid-90s fastball and sat them down with his swing-and-miss changeup (which looks an awful lot like a splitter but ISN’T). As he ages, Lincecum keeps learning what it takes to make it work and how to adopt to his changing body and arsenal of pitches.

It’s a slightly different edition of My Approach with San Francisco Giants starter Tim Lincecum.

Getting Blanked – How do you go about drawing up your game plans and preparing for a start?.

Tim Lincecum – Before every start, I sit down with my pitching coach and catcher and go over what we think the game plan should be, especially based off what we’ve been doing as a staff. If I start later in a series, I get to see the way our pitchers were pitching to them and what was working.

GB – As you map your plan of attack, how much do your weigh your strengths versus what the hitters do well – and have done well recently?

TL – You go off what the hitter’s been doing lately. You try to give him something he’s not necessarily looking for. Something he can’t exactly put it in play the best. The pitch that has the most room for error.

GB – What are the differences between your two types of fastball?:

TL – I grew up throwing a two seamer. Four seamer has been a pitch to kind of equalize that. A pitch I try to throw for strikes and it has a little bit more life on it, too.

GB – Like most pitchers, you work off the fastball (throw it early to get ahead in the count)?

TL – Most pitchers would have to, especially if you’re a starter. To establish the strike zone, everything has to work off that pitch.

GB – When the situation arises, do you work backwards (throw off-speed pitches in fastball counts and vice versa)?

TL – I do, depending on how I feel or what my gameplan is that day. You have to watch the team you’re coming up against and see how they’re hitting it before you can do that. You try to stick to your game plan, stick to your strengths. Obviously I have the changeup and, sometimes, an erratic fastball can work to my advantage. I let those key into the game as much as I can.

Erratic is an interesting choice of words from the 2013 version of Tim Lincecum. He certainly can get away with missing his spots while ahead in the count, provided he’s out of the middle of the plate.

Catcher Hector Sanchez sets up inside on this left-handed batter but Lincecum’s offering tails off the plate away. Luis Valbuena can’t lay off and is looking for a friend to bring him his glove.

It is crucial, for Lincecum and so many pitchers, to throw his fastball for strikes early without hanging it up there for hitters to bang. If only it was so simple.

GB – How have you changed your usage of your curveball and slider? It is a confidence thing?

TL – I feel confident in all my pitches equally. Something might just be working more that day, causing me to fall onto that pitch more than the other. I’ve been trying to utilize all my pitches equally more often compared to the pitcher I was which was heavy changeup and fastball. Trying to fine-tune those things and keep from becoming a one-dimensional pitcher.

There was a time when it was very easy for Tim Lincecum to rely on his fastball and changeup almost exclusively. His fastball is an evolving offering, as he dropped significant velocity off his fastball over the past few years. It happens to all pitchers, it just seemed to happen to Timmy all at once.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.com

Courtesy of Baseball Savant.com

He can survive without his fastball touching 94. The home runs will come with greater frequency (and they have) but minimizing walks and using his strikeout ability to strand runners is key. It all comes back to his devastating changeup.

GB – The changeup is your strikeout pitch. Can it be difficult to command at times, given its movement.

TL – At times it can be tough to command but that’s one of those things you work on in between starts. You’re not going to have great command every start but you try to work around that and try to make those mishaps, the walks, hurt you too much.

Not only is Tim Lincecum’s changeup one of the best in the game, it sets up his entire plan of attack. The pitch moves so much and earns so many swings-and-misses out of the zone, hitters have a hard time laying off even when they know its coming. His recent strong start against the Padres is a great example of his changeup working wonders and getting swinging strikes, especially with two strikes

But it is important to keep the hitters honest, which Lincecum can do when he locates his fastball. Spotting a few fastballs at the bottom of the zone keeps hitters wary of his wipeout change.

Buster Posey called for this fastball down and away, steering clear of Justin Upton‘s prodigious power. Timmy nails his spot and Buster frames it up good. Down and away like that, it is so, so tough for a hitter to pull the trigger. Unless you’re Miguel Cabrera, you can’t do much with that pitch even when you aren’t plagued with thoughts of the changeup disappearing in the dirt.

It appears catcher Buster Posey wanted this pitch up. Timmy doesn’t get it there but he still keeps it safely down (though pretty much right down the middle) and Evereth Cabrera simply couldn’t get the bat off his shoulder. A better hitter might turn this around but Lincecum’s changeup had to feature prominently in Evereth (who nobody will mistake for Miguel) Cabrera’s mind.

GB – Many of us who watch the game don’t have the same appreciation for the value of “feel.” How and when do you start to get a sense for your feel during a given outing?

TL – Sometimes you can can feel great in the bullpen and then come out and not feel great on the mound or vice versa, you just try to take it with a grain of salt and remember to focus on the keys you worked on beforehand. So when stuff does goes awry, you know you have a little crutch.

GB – Is there a guy you like to watch, based on his stuff or his approach?

TL – I’m lucky that I get to watch (Madison) Bumgarner right now. The stellar season he’s having is really fun to watch. I continue to say, when he comes into the dugout, I tell him “this is just fun to watch you play, man.”

GB – Guys like him, with that crazy command…

TL – You know those guys are the tough-to-hit ones because hitters know they’re going to be around the zone but they still can’t get hits. They’re not getting as many hits and they’re not manufacturing runs. The guy throws two quality pitches and he’s worked in a third, that changeup – he has four pitches with his curveball, too.

He gets a little happy with that slider but he gets a lot of outs with it. It’s one of those things, like (Greg) Maddux said: if they can’t hit it, I’m just going to keep throwing it.

Sounds a little bit like Lincecum and his own faithful offering. Keep his fastball out of harm’s way and keep burying that change and Tim Lincecum can be effective. Not what he was but still much more than it seems.

Some stats courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info