The Man Who’s Owned Tim Lincecum

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.”

From a different article:

“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.

So: why?


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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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

28 Responses to “The Man Who’s Owned Tim Lincecum”

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  1. MikeS says:

    And I thought this was going to be a fantasy team article.

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  2. walt526 says:

    Goldschmidt’s an extreme example–because he has such great discipline and so much power–but the pattern that you’re describing pretty much describes why Lincecum hasn’t been that successful the past several years. He nibbles with (mostly with offspeed pitches) to start the count, gets behind, and then gets beat when the batter sits on his fastball.

    It’s a pretty classic case of a pitcher who losses effectiveness when he loses velocity. He still has a decent fastball, but it’s no longer good enough to consistently get swings in misses from good hitters. When he can surprise the batter, it can be effective. But when the batter knows its coming, he gives up a lot of line drives and homers. What makes Lincecum interesting is that he hasn’t figured out how to consistently be effective with the stuff he now has despite basically having the decreased fastball for 2+ years.

    When the Giants signed Tim Hudson, I was hoping that one of the benefits would be helping Lincecum better utilize the stuff that he has now. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      Lincecum’s contact rate was the same in 2013 as it was in 2009. He’s still able to make batters miss, but his mistakes/fastballs in hitter’s counts are more easily punished now, thanks to his diminished velocity.

      It’s only two starts, but his first pitch strike rate is 67%, and his zone percentage is 52%, both much higher than career averages. If he can keep throwing first pitch strikes at a league average rate or better – something he’s never done, granted – he might be pretty good again.

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  3. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Interesting for sure, but the Dbacks announcers might want to look at the standings.

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  4. Compton says:

    The maniacal color guy is Bob Brenly, btw.

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  5. DD says:

    So when Goly inevitably gets in the HR derby this year, can Lincecum be is pitcher?

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  6. lester bangs says:

    As if Lincecum is dominating the rest of the league. Wake up.

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  7. Park Chan ho's Beard says:

    This is anecdotal for sure, but I feel like Todd Helton always used to own Lincecum too. Lincecum even mentioned it in an interview somewhere (I forget where though). How would one look up individual matchups like this? You’ve piqued my curiosity about who has been better against him.

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  8. Near says:

    Worth noting that the pitch Goldschmidt hit for a homer the other night was an opposite field shot to the short pull porch in RF, a very difficult location even for a left-handed batter. There’s only been a handful of right-handed batters who have ever made it there and it takes some extreme confidence knowing that pretty much any ball that isn’t a liner will be an out in AT&T’s RF cavern.

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  9. Mike says:

    A similar result in an even smaller sample: Adam Dunn is 8 for 13 with two doubles and 4 HR against Clayton Kershaw. His line is .615/.643/1.692.

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  10. JKB says:

    The strike zone graph above is from the catcher’s POV, and Goldschmidt is a righty, so maybe learn to throw a Cut Fastball. The cutter appears to be Goldschmidt’s weakest pitch, and Lincecum currently doesn’t throw a cutter. Talk to Vogelsong or Javier Lopez…

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  11. Andy S says:

    Using SSS and looking at pitcher-batter matchups – it’s like two sabermetric sins in one article.

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  12. Anon says:

    One of the first inklings that Goldschmidt was for real was the fact that he wasn’t just beating up bad pitchers. He’s been hitting good pitchers as well from day 1. Just looking at CY winners, he’s got a 1.000+ OPS against Lincecum, Sabathia, Peavy, Cliff Lee and Greinke. He’s also 1000+ on Adam Wainwright and 934 on Matt Cain (who he’s faced even more than Lincecum). Now most of those are much smaller sample sizes than Lincecum & Cain but it I’ve always thought it significant when a guy is hitting good pitching.

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  13. Austin says:

    Verlander against Billy Butler is an interesting comparison and larger sample size: the slash line , however, is .437/.500/1.088. Unlike the Lincecum/Goldschmidt comp though, JV after 2010 has only allowed 1 extra base hit (a double) against Butler. Comerica is not a hitter-friendly park, of course, and it must be awful for a power bat like Butler to play 81 games at Kauffman. 7 homers in 24 plate appearances is insane: that is true “ownership.”

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