Circumstances were different when Paul Goldschmidt faced Tim Lincecum the first time. In early August of 2011, Goldschmidt was playing in his second-ever major-league game, a young first baseman who’d never been a Baseball America top-100 prospect, and who’d never been a Baseball America top-10 Diamondbacks prospect. Lincecum was a staff ace having a Cy Young-caliber season, his fourth in a row, and he was one of the major pieces around which the Giants were built. Against Lincecum, Goldschmidt popped out on the seventh pitch of the first plate appearance. On the fourth pitch of the second plate appearance, Goldschmidt went yard.
The timing of Goldschmidt’s arrival and Lincecum’s decline in part explains the following facts:
- Lincecum has allowed seven home runs in 28 plate appearances against Goldschmidt
- Lincecum has allowed eight home runs in 642 plate appearances against other Diamondbacks
Through the day before Lincecum and Goldschmidt faced off the first time, Lincecum allowed a slugging percentage of .315 to right-handed hitters. Ever since the first encounter, Lincecum has allowed a .444 slugging percentage to right-handed hitters. Goldschmidt hasn’t spent much time facing the old, good version of Tim Lincecum, so he’s mainly feasted on whatever Lincecum is now. But for one thing, a big chunk of that inflated slugging percentage by righties is because of Goldschmidt himself. And for another, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about seven dingers in 28 trips. You can adjust all you want and that’ll never not be freaky.
Goldschmidt got Lincecum again Wednesday night. Goldschmidt has two homers this year, and they’ve both come against the same guy. The video highlight isn’t yet embeddable, but it is linkable, and you can just listen to the Diamondbacks’ broadcasters for a sense of how this feels. You hear Steve Berthiaume exclaim “ownage is ownage” over the color guy’s maniacal laughter. Later, Goldschmidt drove another ball deep for a sac fly, and Berthiaume remarked, “so even when he gets Goldy out, there’s an RBI.” Laughter, again.
In a sense, maybe Lincecum’s results should be better. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Wednesday’s home run had a standard distance of 336 feet. It would’ve left seven ballparks, and it left the bat at 93.3 miles per hour. Goldschmidt’s three homers against Lincecum in 2012 had standard distances of 380, 373, and 360 feet. This one hit the pole:
In a sense, maybe Lincecum’s results should be worse. Here’s Goldschmidt just barely missing a grand slam on an elevated meatball:
Lincecum has thrown Goldschmidt hittable pitches. Goldschmidt has hit them, and he’s hit many of them really far. That’s how you end up with a 28-PA batting line of .542/.536/1.458. How far back can you go and still find suggestions of active ownership? From the Arizona broadcast on September 25, 2012:
“Talk about total ownership over a pitcher.”
Better still, from the Arizona broadcast on May 30, 2012:
“He just absolutely owns Tim Lincecum.”
Goldschmidt against Lincecum since that first ownership suggestion: 6-for-11, three home runs, two sac flies, and one strikeout. If Goldschmidt owned Lincecum in May 2012, Goldschmidt still owns Lincecum today. Given what we know about batter/pitcher matchups, it’s probably more accurate to say that Goldschmidt has owned Lincecum through today, and it’s unlikely to keep up in the future, but even if something is unsustainable, there can be reasons for the existence of a thing in the first place.
Why has Goldschmidt had such success? Ask him, and he won’t tip his hand:
“You know, Lincecum’s a very good pitcher,” he said. “You just go up there and try to have a good at-bat and try to hit the ball hard, and fortunately I was able to get one there in the first inning. It really doesn’t change — try to have a good at-bat, try to keep it simple.”
But then, what would you expect? If it’s all just a fluke, Goldschmidt wouldn’t offer any keys, and he wouldn’t have an explanation for what’s happened. If it isn’t just a fluke, why would Goldschmidt want to reveal his approach to the press? It’s one thing to discuss strategy after the end of a showdown. Goldschmidt and Lincecum are going to face off more often in the future. If there is something about this particular matchup, there’s no reason for Goldschmidt to openly discuss it.
What about asking Lincecum?
“I think I have to work more on my strengths and not necessarily his weaknesses,” Lincecum said. “I know he’s got some holes here and there, but I need to mix up my pitch routines. Right now I’m just falling into backwards counts where it’s pretty dangerous.”
“I’m going to start throwing underhand to him or something. I don’t know. It’s a game of adjustments. He’s constantly making them against me, so I’ve got to do the same thing against him. That will be for the next go-around.”
Even the mediocre version of Lincecum has allowed considerably less contact than the average. Goldschmidt, for his career, has made considerably less contact than the average. What you’d expect from such a matchup is a pretty low contact rate. As is, the matchup has yielded a roughly average 78% contact rate, and since the start of 2012, Goldschmidt has missed with just five of 27 swings. Lincecum hasn’t been able to get Goldschmidt to miss, and when batters don’t miss against Lincecum, they hit the ball pretty hard.
It’s an interesting chart. When Lincecum is effective, he gets hitters to swing at offspeed pitches down and out of the zone. That’s where most of the swings and misses are. Lincecum has thrown Goldschmidt 25 low non-fastballs, and Goldschmidt has swung at just two of them. (Each, incidentally, being a whiff.) When those pitches aren’t swung at, they’re balls, and when Lincecum can’t get strikes down, he has to come up, nearer to the zone. When Lincecum can’t get swings at offspeed stuff, he has to throw more fastballs. Five of Goldschmidt’s seven dingers have been off fastballs, and it was a fastball that Goldschmidt just barely got under with the bases loaded. One of the dingers came against a hanging slider. One was a changeup above the knees. On four occasions, Lincecum was behind in the count; only once was he ahead. Goldschmidt hasn’t hit a two-strike homer, although he does have an 0-and-2 double on a slider that Lincecum didn’t throw low enough.
Against Lincecum’s fastball, Goldschmidt has swung 55% of the time. He’s taken just five swings against 27 changeups or curves, and he’s at 17 swings against 39 sliders, with all but two of those coming at sliders above the knees. The short of it: Goldschmidt, against Lincecum, hasn’t been willing to chase. Lincecum these days requires hitters to chase. His stuff doesn’t play as well in the zone, and his command isn’t good enough to find the zone’s soft spots. Goldschmidt is talented enough to take advantage, even if he won’t keep hitting dingers at a 25% clip.
For Lincecum, Goldschmidt is a work in progress. In 2011, he threw 43% fastballs. In 2012, he threw 53% fastballs. Since then, he’s thrown 32% fastballs. He’s still looking for a solution. Goldschmidt’s presumably made his own adjustments, and to this point he’s remained one step ahead. We’re smart enough not to expect Goldschmidt to keep owning Lincecum to an extreme extent in the future. Four-digit slugging percentages tend not to last very long. But Lincecum knows he needs to change to beat his opponent, and now in future showdowns, there’s going to be that added pressure. Lincecum is going to be conscious of when he’s facing Paul Goldschmidt, because of their history, and it’s a matchup that’s going to require a little extra thought and preparation. In that way, batter/pitcher matchups can be a significant thing, even if the data’s generally almost worthless. Tim Lincecum doesn’t think it’s worthless. Tim Lincecum knows exactly what’s been done to him.
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