Is Timmy Broken?

Back in April, I noted how Tim Lincecum‘s velocity just continued to decline, and how he had transformed into an entirely different pitcher than he was coming out of college, but that he’d been able to maintain his dominance despite the shift in skills. Specifically, I remember telling Erik Manning that we could start worrying about Lincecum’s velocity loss once it started affecting his performance.

Well, commence worrying.

Last night, Lincecum faced the Dodgers, and while the game was more notable for what happened later, it was probably the worst he’s ever thrown as a major leaguer. Results wise, he didn’t even make it through the fifth inning, gave up five runs, walked three, hit a batter, and only managed to strike out two of the 24 batters he faced. Stuff wise, it was even worse.

His fastball averaged 89 MPH, and the hardest pitch he threw all night was 91.8 MPH. He wasn’t even able to sustain that, however, as he was down to sitting in the 87-88 MPH range by the end of his performance. Via BrooksBaseball, the graph of his velocity from last night tells the story.

It was notable that his fastball was down when he was throwing 91-94. Last night, he was several ticks below that, and since a brilliant April, it’s been a struggle for Lincecum. Here’s his splits by month:

April: 1.78 BB/9, 10.85 K/9, 49.4% GB%, 2.25 xFIP
May: 5.70 BB/9, 9.91 K/9, 50.5% GB%, 4.10 xFIP
June: 3.38 BB/9, 9.56 K/9, 41.6% GB%, 3.23 xFIP
July: 3.38 BB/9, 7.09 K/9, 44.3% GB%, 4.06 xFIP

From 2007 to 2009, Lincecum had two months (June 2007, September 2007) where his xFIP was over 4.00. He’s now done it two of the last three months. He’s never had a month with a strikeout rate as low it is right now in July.

In his start prior to last night, he threw a complete game shutout, his fastball averaged 92 MPH, and he hit 95 a couple of times. It looked like he might be getting back on track, even though he only had five strikeouts. But, after last night’s no stuff/no command outing, it seems clear that something is going on. The Giants are in the midst of a pennant race, but they also owe it to their ace to make sure he’s alright. And right now, he doesn’t look like alright.

Perhaps, like Madison Bumgarner, he just needs a few starts to get some things straightened out and the velocity will come back. We can’t conclude simply from lessened velocity and poor performance that Lincecum is hurting – only he and the doctors know that. If I’m the Giants, though, I’d want to know 100 percent that there’s nothing structurally wrong before I let him take the mound again. The version of Lincecum who pitched for San Francisco last night won’t help them win anything anyway.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.