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.

18 Responses to “NLDS Game One Preview: San Francisco”

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  1. Michael Sherer says:

    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

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  2. Mike says:


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  3. Fred says:

    Good Article, if not for the atrocious analogy

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  4. Mike says:

    Am I really supposed to believe the bullpen is that good? Pretty much all of them have results far superior to their underlying numbers. Santiago Castillo? Really? He suddenly figured out how to strand more runners, allow fewer HR/F and fewer balls in play to be hits than ever before in his career? Not sure this bullpen is actually all that good.

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  5. GiantHusker says:

    I must agree with Mike on the bullpen. Those great results are based on very few innings. The relievers’ records over their careers, and even with other teams before being acquired this season by the Giants, don’t give me great faith in them, except for Wilson and probably Romo.
    The omission of Guillen from the roster is clearly a positive, though a small one.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      “Those great results are based on very few innings”

      This is the nature of relievers, though. Medders was great last year and couldn’t stay on the team this year. Relievers are volatile players, prone to excellence one season and miserable failure the next; that’s why closers (i.e. consistently good relievers) are so overvalued. Even an oft-used reliever won’t pitch more than 80 innings in a year, or less than half what a starter would throw, so you need several years of data to establish someone as a good reliever, and things can change.

      But the Giants’ pen is pretty fantastic; Wilson is one of the best closers, Romo one of the top setup men, Casilla walks a few too many guys but strikes out a ton and has excellent stuff, Ramirez has gotten lucky but is generally solid, Affeldt has been okay this year after a brilliant 2009, Lopez has been dominant against lefties, and Mota has been better after a bad July/August. The bullpen has a couple top-flight setup men, a fantastic closer, and middle relievers that could really be setup guys; the depth of talent and the excellent starting pitching means that they don’t get overused and so they can seriously impact a game whether they starter goes seven innings or four.

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  6. ralf says:

    I’m not waiting for Lincecum to regress, I’m waiting for his right arm to detach and land in the fourth row behind the third base dugout. His numbers will probably be excellent until that happens. Afterward, yeah, regression.

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  7. I'm With LOPO says:

    25 Swings and misses for Lincecum. Doc had 17 yesterday. Awesome playoffs so far. What a treat it would be to see Tim Lince versus Halladay and then later in the playoffs one of those two versus Cliff Lee.

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    • phoenix says:

      lincecum vs halladay would be a fantastic matchup. i know lincecum didnt throw a no hitter, but a 2 hitter with 14 Ks is pretty much as dominating as any game pitched. a halladay-lincecum matchup would be strike out heaven! as well as probably a battle of the bullpens after 9 scoreless from each lol.

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      • I'm With LOPO says:

        Both are filthy. It’s interesting how they get it done completely different. Roy’s release point is unreal to go with his stuff. Compared with Lincecum who just throws it with everything he’s got. This just shows how good Lincecum’s stuff is. Velocity might be down but it doesn’t matter with that changeup.

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      • hank says:

        Actually isn’t Linceum’s performance more dominating? Lincecum ended up being more valuable (higher WAR for the game) and having a better FIP than Doc.

        The no hitter is nice, but a .000 BABIP is just luck and defense as a pitcher has no control over a ball in play. Should the arbitrariness of balls in play falling for hits vs outs really factor in to how we view dominance or value?

        queue sample size response… though measuring value of a discrete event that occurred in the past shouldn’t be dependent on sample size, sample size only tells you how likely it is to continue. A batter that hits 3 HR’s in a game has a certain value…. it may not continue to occur but the value for that game is still measured by what happened, regardless of how likely it is to continue to occur (that is the difference between using the rate stats for measurement vs prediction)

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      • saint says:

        hank: if you want to strip luck out of it then you’re better off using xfip. my rough calculation which is probably slightly off has it at 1.7 xfip and lincecum and 2.6 for halladay. of course you should also adjust for opponent, which will help halladay a lot because the reds have a very good offense and the chipper-less, prado-less braves lineup is sort of sorry.

        there is obviously some skill involved in throwing a no hitter. there is also a whole truckload of luck. but it’s not fair to discount it entirely. lincecum had a couple balls hit very hard off him.

        he also went 1-3 with a rbi!

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      • saint says:

        halladay that is.

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