NLDS Game One Preview: San Francisco

See the NLDS Game One preview for Atlanta.

The naysayers who insist that a 5-11, 170 lb pitcher won’t last in the MLB have been waiting for Tim Lincecum to regress since 2008. But after winning back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards with back-to-back sub-3.00 FIP seasons, it’s hard for even a young superstar to keep up that level of production without the rest of baseball adjusting. Still, to say that Tim Lincecum fell back to earth this season is like saying that Princeton dropped behind Harvard in the 2011 U.S. News rankings. Of the pitchers in the playoffs, only Roy Halladay and Francisco Liriano (along with Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson) have a better xFIP than Lincecum (3.15). Considering that Lincecum actually has a higher ERA than his teammates Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants look very good running their big three starters out there against the Braves.

Lincecum had an up-and-down season down the stretch, leaving a winless August behind when batters hit .311/.389/.519 off of him. However, Lincecum turned things around in time for tonight’s game with 5 wins and a 1.94 ERA in September. It may seem that he has been a bit more hittable this season, but he’s still baffling hitters with a nasty changeup on a start-by-start basis. Take a look at his changeups this season, showing where his swinging strikes and balls put in play are located:

He uses his changeup 16.5% of the time against RHH and 25.8% of the time against LHH. Both whiff at a high rate, with 25.4% of RHH and 27.7% of LHH whiffing on his changeup this season. What’s interesting to note and adds clarity to the term ‘filthy stuff,’ Lincecum’s changeup induces swinging strikes both in the strikezone and low and out of the zone. Hitters whiff both by missing in the zone and by chasing balls.

While the Giants look to be in good hands with Lincecum facing a Braves’ lineup that doesn’t have a single standout power hitter, the Giants’ lineup, also underwhelming power-wise, looks to remain patient and draw walks against Derek Lowe. In two starts against Lowe this season, the Giants drew 8 walks in 11.1 innings, good for an OBP of .362 against him. But the orange and blackmen (black and orangemen?) slugged .308 in those two starts and would need to do major overhaul if they want to be successful against Lowe tonight. For the season, the Giants’ offense was average or below average in hitting pre All-Star (.261/.326/.406), but slumped further post All-Star (.253/.315/.411). When it comes to monthly splits, San Francisco hopes to continue one trend and improve another. Their home run rate increased from 2.8% to 4.1% between August and September/October, but their team OBP decreased from .326 to .295.

Viewers will be intrigued by both teams’ budding rookie stars, Buster Posey of the Giants and Jason Heyward of the Braves. While Heyward hit much better in the second half of the season, Posey has regressed somewhat after hitting a ridiculous .417/.466/.699 in July. Still, of any of the Giants’ batters, look to the rookie to unleash the bat and make the big play.

San Francisco’s bullpen — now this is where the team really shines — is led by closer Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, and Santiago Casilla. The bullpen had a 2.99 ERA for the season (second in the MLB) while preventing 76% of inherited runners from scoring. Brian Wilson achieved a ridiculous 2.19 FIP, and the big three have only allowed 11 HRs in a combined 192 IP. Lincecum can go deep into the game averaging over 6 innings per start, but the Braves may not find any relief once the Giants get to their deep bullpen.

As it stands, Lincecum is heavily favored to win this game, but if Lowe continues to stifle the Giants’ power hitting, their pitching will have to be near perfect in order to win. But more often than not, great regular season pitching becomes brilliant playoff pitching. And Lincecum’s changeup and the Giants’ bullpen depth may win this one all by themselves.

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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.

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Michael Sherer
Michael Sherer

Nice preview. Another big help for the giants would be getting an early lead – the offense has a tendency to get even worse when playing behind.

-Giants fan from the Rock