Is it Tim Lincecum’s Fastball or Changeup?

Tim Lincecum’s struggles in 2012 are well documented (as is his resurgence as a reliever in the playoffs), and by now everyone is aware of the significant drop-off in fastball velocity that Timmy suffered.  Coming into 2013, fantasy owners especially are betting on a rebound, with many observers focused on the fact that Lincecum’s K/9 remained strong despite his subpar campaign.  I’m not so sure that a rebound is likely.

As mentioned above, over his 6 years in MLB Lincecum has lost about 4 MPH off the heater.  Interestingly, over the same time period, his changeup has consistently sat 83:

Fastball Changeup
2007 93.6 83.2
2008 94.0 83.3
2009 92.4 83.1
2010 91.2 83.7
2011 92.2 83.6
2012 90.4 83.2

While Lincecum used to maintain a 10 MPH separation between fastball and changeup, that is down to 7MPH.  I don’t know if there are any studies showing an optimal separation between the pitches (though if any of you readers do, please point them my way).  I also find it interesting that his changeup has shown no velocity loss – while the slower fastball might sometimes indicate injury, I would if Timmy were hiding an injury it would show up in other pitches.

As noted above, Lincecum managed to maintain a 9.19 K/9 rate in 2012, and though down from his Cy Young seasons, the rate falls not far below his career mark.  In addition, his swing rate and his swinging strike rates are right at his career norms.  Delving into the breakdown amongst his pitches, Lincecum still throws strikes at very consistent rates – with one notable exception (table below showing percent of strikes thrown per year):

2007-2010 63.96% 65.20% 66.31% 58.15% 64.42%
2011 62.29% 62.66% 59.88% 54.55% 64.78%
2012 61.44% 62.31% 57.60% 58.52% 64.29%

The data also suggest that the decrease in strikes thrown isn’t necessarily a location issue – hitters are laying off the off-speed pitch with greater effectiveness.  In 2010, hitters were swinging at 63% of Lincecum’s changeups, and swinging through 27% of them.  Last season, those numbers were 51% and 22%, respectively.

As Lincecum has lost the MPH delta between fastball and change, and has failed to tantaize with his changeup, the results in the batters box have been somewhat predictable:

2007 0.310 0.169
2008 0.323 0.221
2009 0.338 0.159
2010 0.358 0.235
2011 0.317 0.194
2012 0.326 0.350

What stands out to me then is despite the drop in velocity on the heater, hitters aren’t punishing the fastball, they’re doing league average damage on the #1 but they’re destroying his off-speed offerings.

What, then, to expect from Lincecum as the Giants pursue their 3rd title in four seasons?  Lincecum’s fastball velocity is a problem, but his fastball isn’t – rather, his fastball is costing him the effectiveness of the changeup.  Throwing 88-91, Lincecum has enough of a fastball to get by — but the fastball velocity isn’t coming back and there isn’t much in the numbers that would make me believe that the changeup can be effective with a 7 MPH spread.  Many prognosticators (and many fantasy baseball owners) are latching onto the strikeout rate in 2012 as a glimmer of hope for a resurgent Lincecum;  sadly, I think that those folks will be disappointed — and after Brian Sabean has paid Lincecum his $22M for this season, 2013 will be Lincecum’s last as a Giant.


About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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