Tim Lincecum: Bad Luck or Bad Pitches?

After giving up five runs in five innings in Seattle on Saturday, Tim Lincecum‘s ERA now stands at 6.19. However, his 3.87 FIP and 3.82 xFIP stand in stark contrast to that mark, and his walk rate, strikeout rate, and home run (or fly ball) rate suggest that his process and results haven’t lined up in the season’s first two months. You can essentially trace the cause of his runs allowed to a .330 BABIP and an 11.4% HR/FB ratio, both of which are categories that have wide variation and less predictive value than more core metrics. In fact, many times, you’ll hear a pitcher who is at one extreme in either BABIP or HR/FB be referred to as being either lucky or unlucky, depending on which side of the spectrum they’re residing on at the moment.

That’s no question that FanGraphs is a contributor to those kinds of statements, as we’ve long supported the idea that pitchers should be evaluated more by their ability to throw strikes and either miss bats or get batters to hit the ball on the ground than they are by the outcomes of when a batter does make contact. We’ve used the term luck to describe fluctuations in BABIP or HR/FB, so any critiques I make about the use of that word are as introspective as they are anything else. But, that said, I do want to suggest that using the word luck to describe Tim Lincecum’s early season results is probably doing a disservice his actual performance.

When we say a pitcher has been lucky or unlucky, it usually brings up notions of a well placed pitch getting deposited just out of the range of his defender’s gloves, or a guy giving up a line drive into the gap only to have it get run down by a fantastically talented outfielder. Or, with home run rate, it’s more along the lines of allowing a weak fly ball to right field in Yankee Stadium that just keeps carrying, or throwing a meatball down the middle in San Diego and watching it get run down at the warning track. In these instances, there’s a significant disconnect between what the pitcher did and the outcome with which he was credited. In that sense, he probably was “lucky” or “unlucky” in the truest sense of the word.

But, is that really what’s happening to Tim Lincecum this season? As a team, the Giants have allowed just a .279 BABIP, so it doesn’t seem like the context in which he’s pitching has been a significant problem for his teammates. And, as has been widely discussed, San Francisco pitchers have long held some of the lowest HR/FB rates in baseball, and AT&T Park is one of the toughest places in the game for a left-handed hitter to pull the ball over the fence, so it’s not like Lincecum is routinely having to pitch in environments where he can throw a good pitch and watch it just barely creep over the fence. If the separation between his ERA and his FIP/xFIP is due to something besides poor defense or small parks, is it really bad luck?

For instance, let’s look at the two home runs he allowed to the Mariners in the first inning on Saturday. Here’s the location of the pitch he threw to Casper Wells that ended his at-bat in the first inning.

What happens when you throw a 91 MPH fastball on the inner half of the plate at belt level? This happens.

According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker Online, that ball went 390 feet and would have left every park in baseball. Lincecum threw a terrible pitch and it got hit a very long way. There wasn’t much in that scenario that you could consider bad luck. He got what he deserved for throwing a power hitter a meatball middle-in.

Now, let’s look at the same information, just from Jesus Montero two batters later.

Hey, that looks better, right? The last pitch of the at-bat is an 85 MPH slider on the inside corner towards the bottom of the strike zone. Nothing wrong with that, at least in theory. Well, here’s the pitch location (and movement, sorta, as best as you can see it from Seattle’s camera angle) in real life:

On second thought, that location wasn’t so hot after all. Yes, the pitch has some downwards movement and was lower in the zone, but it was closer to the middle of the plate than anywhere it could tie Montero up, and it essentially broke right into his wheelhouse. Montero destroyed that pitch, hitting it 445 feet into the second deck in left field, and obviously, that also would have left every ballpark in America.

If you had to grade both of these pitches on degree of difficulty for the batter to hit, you’d probably give them both an F. Maybe the slider to Montero gets a C- for being down in the zone, but given that the count was 1-2 and Montero is an aggressive hitter who will gladly chase pitches out of the zone, that’s probably not where Lincecum actually wanted to throw that pitch. In neither case would you look at the outcome and say Lincecum was “unlucky” in the way we usually think about the term. He threw bad pitches and they got whacked. That’s bad pitching more than bad luck.

And this is where DIPS theory really breaks down for a lot of people. If we tell someone that Lincecum has just been unlucky, and then they watch him throw those pitches, they’re not going to agree with you, and they probably shouldn’t. The word luck undermines the actual point of DIPS, which is not that the pitcher has no control over the outcome of a ball in play, but that variations in outcomes on balls in play don’t tell us much about what to expect from a pitcher’s future outcomes on balls in play. It’s not so much about being lucky as it is about doing something that isn’t likely to repeat in future. It’s more about repeatability or sustainability than what most people consider to be luck.

Saying that Tim Lincecum has been unlucky is probably not true. He’s struggling with his command, falling behind in counts more often, and throwing pitches that are rightfully getting crushed based on movement and location. If Wells had fouled off that fastball on Saturday, that would have been luck, so maybe you could argue that Lincecum is suffering from a lack of good luck (in that it’s quite possible that hitters aren’t missing his mistakes as often as they used to), but that’s not the same thing as suffering from bad luck.

And that’s why we should probably try to reduce our usage of the word luck to begin with. Yes, there are bloopers that fall in, broken bat squibs that find holes, or times when a defender just falls down and the pitcher gets blamed for his defensive miscue. There are definitely instances of luck in baseball, and they do effect the results that a pitcher is credited with. I’m not arguing against DIPS theory – I’m just saying that perhaps we should try to do a better job of talking about it when a guys results aren’t lining up with his process because he’s throwing bad pitches that hitters aren’t missing.

What Voros McCracken and the others who followed his research really showed us wasn’t that pitchers have no control over batted ball outcomes, but that the things that cause those gaps don’t hold up over time. Lincecum can be doing things that are causing him to give up a lot of runs now but history suggests that he won’t keep doing those things in the future. He’s either going to figure out how to fix his command or he’s going to change his approach to pitching, and he’s not going to keep locating 91 MPH fastballs middle-in at the belt with regularity. Maybe hitters will start missing his mistakes more often. Maybe he’ll start making fewer mistakes. Whatever the cause is, the effect is likely to be that Lincecum is going to get better results in the future than he has in the first two months of the season.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t earned his poor results to date. The word luck absolves him of blame for the outcome, which shouldn’t be what we’re trying to do. Blame Tim Lincecum for throwing terrible pitches – just realize that it doesn’t mean that he’s going to keep throwing terrible pitches in the future.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


74 Responses to “Tim Lincecum: Bad Luck or Bad Pitches?”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    The two first inning dingers notwithstanding, 90% of Timmy’s problems seem to have come when he has to work out of the stretch which means that the runs he allows come in bunches and there is a higher percentage of his runners that score all of which would tend to make his FIP look better than his ERA, yet, the ERA is a far more accurate measure of how he has pitched and the results are completely explainable based on observable phenomena on the field.

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    • Oren says:

      Pretty much this. Lincecum has a 60.5% strand rate this season, which is way off from his normal ~75% rate. Looking deeper into his splits confirms what we’ve seen: with bases empty, he’s a very solid pitcher, with about a 3.56 K/BB ratio and a 2.91 xFIP. With runners on, though, he turns into a bad pitcher – his Ks plummet, his walks spike, and his xFIP rises to 4.98. It’s even worse when runners are in scoring position – he allows 9.74 walks per 9 and his xFIP is a terrible 6.70. And this isn’t a normal Lincecum thing – in his Cy Young years and even in 2010 and 2011, he was about as good with runners on as without, and in some cases even better.

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    • Brian says:

      Considering he is a lot worse out of the stretch than out of the windup, what are the chances that Lincecum’s issues stem from him messing up his mechanics in trying to improve his ability to keep runners from going steal happy on the basepaths against him?

      Side note: I find it interesting that he now has his issues out of the stretch rather than the windup. I remember a few years ago it was the other way around, and he started throwing strictly out of the stretch because he couldn’t command his pitchers from the windup. Is there a reason pitchers are taught to throw both out of the stretch and windup? It seems like it would make more sense for pitchers to throw out of the stretch and only have one set of mechanics to worry about.

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      • Tyler says:

        As someone who only pitched into college, I always got more torque on my body from the wind up. After the hands break it should be exactly the same anyway, but runners effing with you plays a role in mechanics regardless of what any pitcher says. Especially to lefties with runners on first or righties on third.

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    • Atk825 says:

      Not to be completely obtuse, but the majority of runs given up are from the stretch. The only way to score when a pitcher is throwing from the wind up is a solo homer or if he pitches from the wind up with the bases loaded.

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  2. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Scott Kazmir 2.0

    He’ll be out of the league by 2014.

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    • Danmay says:

      1. Kazmir never reached even close to the same heights as Lincecum. Kazmir’s best year was about as valuable as Lincencum’s worst (before 2012 that is).

      2. Kazmir’s performance never resulted in large ERA-FIP gaps. On top of that, Kazmir’s best year’s were when he suffered the highest BABIP.

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      • JKB says:

        The Kazmir 2.0 comment resonates with long-time Rays fans on a level deeper than statistics. RISP flashbacks…

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  3. bgrasso12 says:

    Great writeup – thanks Dave. Clearly he’s making some poor pitches and paying for them. Honestly, that writeup just makes me more confused about his performance – specifically his still outstanding 9.70 k/9.

    How does one make enough great pitches to have a k rate that high while simultaneously making enough poor pitches to have a 6.19 ERA? Maybe Timmay and Scherzer can discuss it next time they get together?

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    • jp_on_rye says:

      I’d say it’s mostly because he’s been SO BAD out of the stretch. He’s still getting his Ks, in particular with the bases empty, but as soon as someone gets on base, everything about him falls apart. He can’t throw strikes, can’t get swings and misses, makes location mistakes, etc. The two home runs this post is mainly about don’t qualify for that, obviously, since they were solo, but in general, I’d say this is the problem.

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  4. Scubakon says:

    Should we be reaching similar conclusions about Max Scherzer?

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  5. I JUST DON’T KNOW WHERE THE BALL IS GOING SO HELP ME GOD

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  6. dustin says:

    It seems like DIPS theory is more predictive in the MLB moreso than lower leagues because pitchers with consistent, extreme “bad luck” don’t stay in the league long.

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  7. marechal says:

    Doesn’t this article make a pretty good case for not basing a pitcher’s WAR on his FIP?

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    • seanmk says:

      Why? FIP accounts for what actually happened, he gave up the home runs. What would you suggest you use instead for WAR?

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      • TheSeanAlfe says:

        The article says FIP is a predictive number, not a number that tells you what happened. According to the article, ERA is what tells you what happened, but ERA is less likely to tell you what will happen in the future since it’s based on things that don’t necessarily hold up in the long term.

        I find it strange, too, since I believe Dave has said before that FIP tells you what really happened better than ERA, specifically when talking about why fWAR uses FIP. But marechal is right that this article, as it’s written, seems to contradict that idea.

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      • LTG says:

        ERA and FIP are both problematic as a metric for WAR. We don’t want to know the future nor do we want to know just what happened. We want to know of what happened how it reflects the pitcher’s performance. Giving up earned runs does not always reflect the pitcher’s performance even over the course of a season and having good peripherals does not always mean a pitcher is pitching well. FIP seems more reliable than ERA but not as reliable as something more attuned to the details of a pitcher’s performance.

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      • marechal says:

        TheSeanAlfe described my point better than I could. I may have read that wrong, but Dave almost implies that FIP has more of a predictive value (“It’s more about repeatability or sustainability than what most people consider to be luck”). That would imply that FIP is not great at describing past performance (but it would be better to evaluate talent/future performance), which is – at least in my understanding – the point of WAR.

        And if FIP is about “repeatability” and “sustainability”, how does it relate to xFIP, which is also about “sustainability”?

        This is a refreshing article, but it does raise more questions than it answers, in my opinion.

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      • Julian says:

        I get why we would use FIP, but by that same logic, why doesn’t WAR for batters attempt to normalize for BABIP? A batter with an abnormally high BABIP will have an abnormally high WAR, which does reflect what he’s done, but doesn’t reflect anything you can expect to sustain. Meanwhile, we seem to treat pitchers differently, because we look at FIP (which is more sustainable) instead of ERA (which does ultimately how well a pitcher actually kept runs off the board).

        That brings up a point with awards and such.. why do we care about FIP? Wouldn’t we rather give it to somebody that performed, regardless of whether or not he should have performed that way? Somebody with a 6.00 FIP but a 1.50 ERA clearly shouldn’t be expected to pitch better than somebody with a 6.00 ERA but a 1.50 FIP in the future, but if these are the only 2 pitchers in baseball, who gets the Cy Young?

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      • quincy0191 says:

        Julian:

        Because pitcher BABIP hasn’t been shown to be sustainable. Every large-scale BABIP analysis on the pitcher side indicates that in the vast majority of cases it fluctuates between seasons, with no correlation between BABIP and controllable things like K/9 or BB/9. Since pitcher BABIP isn’t consistent between seasons, it’s put into the “non-predictive” category and doesn’t penalize a pitcher’s WAR because all signs point to it being uncontrollable.

        Hitter BABIP is a different animal. It has been shown to be controllable; high LD% hitters and speedy guys, for example, generally post higher BABIPs than slower hitters or bad hitters. If I were to hit in the majors for a full season, I would strike out a lot, but any ball I put in play would be unlikely to go for a hit because it wouldn’t be hit well and I’m not fast. So hitter BABIP, while sometimes fluky, is typically indicative of an actual skill than pitcher BABIP, thus it has an (indirect) influence on WAR.

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      • B N says:

        Notably, 3-year ERA is a BETTER predictor than FIP over the same span for future ERA. That means that if you do really want to predict performance and have a large sample size, you’re better off using something like RA (runs against) to predict itself. After all, who cares if it was due to errors or not- the runs scored and some pitchers make errors more likely to occur (cough cough: grounders). \

        I mean, did your team ever lose in the world series due to errors on balls in play and you said “Well, but the performance was otherwise good.” If those had been strikeouts, there wouldn’t have been errors. The only downside of RA is that it will change a bit if a guy moves to a team with a much better/worse defense. On the other hand, that again speaks to the value of a high K pitcher: you don’t need to invest as much in defense.

        So in conclusion:
        1. ERA predicts ERA better than FIP (given enough samples)
        2. ERA is partly stupid because it overvalues guys who get lots of grounders
        3. RA is a more realistic assessment of value, long term
        4. But RA will be less stable when a pitcher changes teams

        I mean, choose your poison:
        ERA – Captures 95% of the runs, but defense impacts it
        RA – Captures 100% of the runs, but defense impacts it even more
        FIP – Estimates the runs… but performs worse than RA or ERA over a large sample

        The fact that even pitchers switching teams doesn’t impact the defensive backup enough to make ERA a worse estimator than FIP seems to indicate that FIP is only useful if you need to make judgements from a small sample. I would not prefer it if I was trying to sign a veteran pitcher.

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    • quincy0191 says:

      No.

      ERA and FIP describe different things. ERA is just a measure of how many earned runs were allowed, which is affected by things like luck (BABIP and LOB%, whether hits fall in and where they fall in) and defense, and off-the-field judgments like whether a run was earned or not, a decision that is up to the official scorer and has nothing to do with the players on the field. Therefore it’s almost entirely stupid to base a metric like WAR on ERA, because you’re factoring in so many things outside of the pitcher’s control, and in some cases outside of any player’s control.

      FIP, on the other hand, describes precisely what various statisticians have been able to show a pitcher can control. Eliminating almost all of the noise results in a much clearer picture, though it is a bit smaller. The only advantage ERA has over FIP is that it is a better descriptor of the end results; the problem is that very little of what it describes is actually something the pitcher did. So using to to measure pitcher value is grossly inaccurate, because it’s measuring things that have nothing to do with the pitcher. I understand how it might seem better – ERA is a better descriptor of the final result than FIP, and that’s what we care about – but since whether a run was allowed has to do with more than just the pitcher it’s not good to attribute it just to the pitcher, in the same way as a W or L isn’t just about the pitcher but gets attributed to him. If you wanted to create some sort of collective WAR, then earned runs would be a more valuable measure, but you’d have to do some crazy weighting to accurately measure each player’s contribution.

      Basically, FIP is more predictive than ERA for obvious reasons, but also more descriptive because WAR is trying to quantify the precise value of a single player, not a team, and ERA has far too much noise to use it. In eliminating that noise, you do lose some information that you would otherwise like to keep, but the price of keeping it is too high (it would render the stat essentially useless).

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      • B N says:

        FIP cleans up noise, but results in systematic bias for pitchers (e.g. some will be consistently overrated, some consistently underrated). This systematic bias may be small, but it’s significant over large samples.

        ERA doesn’t clean up the noise, but preserves the true signal. Unfortunately, the true signal is ALSO biased by the quality of defenders behind them.

        Worse, if your defense sucks, you may adjust your pitching style a bit to accommodate that (e.g. adapt). So even FIP is not entirely defense-dependent. I would expect small decreases in contact when a pitcher goes from a team with very good defense to one with very bad defense.

        So they’re both biased stats. One is biased by the context, the other is biased by the information it throws out. Since ERA predicts ERA over large samples better than FIP does, I’d say that ERA is less biased and therefore a better predictor. But if I had small sample size, I’d definitely use a more DIPy stat.

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    • jim says:

      oh, here we go again…

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      • cs3 says:

        So basically, it was a huge mistake to put FIP on the same scale as ERA?
        I think if FIP was simply registered as a number between say 1 and 100, then we wouldnt even be having this discussion.

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      • quincy0191 says:

        cs3:

        This is a matter of opinion more than fact, but I think having FIP on the same scale as ERA is a good thing. It allows direct comparison, and columns like E-F which tell you how a pitcher should have performed based solely on his peripherals (which should be taken with a grain of salt, but is typically more predictive than ERA). Having FIP on a different scale would only allow you to compare a pitcher’s FIP to other pitchers’ FIPs, so you could say that if Tim Lincecum stays the same, we would expect him to be better than Jeremy Guthrie, but you couldn’t (easily) say whether he would be better than he has been over the last two and a half months. Really, re-scaling FIP or scaling it to something else would just make the comparison more difficult; since both stats are essentially trying to figure out how effective a pitcher has been in total, just using different inputs, the comparison would still be there but in a more difficult to compare format. That only creates unnecessary confusion.

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  8. D4P says:

    Lincecum’s BB/9 rate in 2012 is (by far) the highest of his career, and is the 5th highest in the MLB among qualified starters.

    His GB% rate is the lowest of his career, and his LD% rate is the highest of his career.

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  9. junker23 says:

    Should this say anything about how WAR has been valuing Lincecum’s performance so far this season?

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  10. tyke says:

    fantastic article!

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  11. Jason says:

    Love the MLB The Show pics

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  12. Romogenized Melk says:

    Timmy misses Pat Burrell

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  13. I’m glad I just traded for him in a league (although to be fair I also got Starlin Castro in the same deal)…

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Want to share stories about your bad beats in poker, too? They’re as interesting to us as your fantasy trades are.

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      • nitro2831 says:

        His fantasy stories, or anyone’s for that matter, are more interesting than your petty disregard for the things that make other people care about baseball.

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  14. Kernel says:

    Watch that Montero .gif while listening to the Santa Esmerelda cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. You could conceivably watch it for the entire ten minute run.

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  15. Evan says:

    Yeah, the Fangraphs community and the mission of the journalists and analysts here are definitely going to agree with you that two examples specifically selected because people hit HRs off of him make a perfect counterexample to the 77 innings worth of data collected on him over the course of the season, or the 1,105 innings of data collected over his career.

    Also, how does this show that a .330 BABIP isn’t bad luck? Ervin Santana, who never knows where the ball is going after it leaves his hand, is giving up a dreadful 1.8 HR/9, but his BABIP is only .247. Humber, Volquez and tons of guys with poor command have BABIP’s way below .300.

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  16. so the Giants basically traded Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera, only to have another Jonathan Sanchez pop up?

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    • Oren says:

      That’s one of my theories – the Giants must, at all times, have a pitcher who doesn’t know where his pitches are going. Used to be Sanchez, now it’s Timmy. And at least we got a nice Melky out of the swap.

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  17. anon says:

    my two cents:

    looking at the full-season game charts, and comparing 2011 and 2012, I think he might be tipping his changeup. in 2011, most of the pitches were released from the same “cloud”, but if you look where the changeup is this year, the release point is noticeably off (about 0.5″ lower and 0.5″ further out).

    if you look at his pitch values, the only other pitch worse than his changeup is his slider. looking only at pitch f/x horizontal and vertical movement, it might be that the slidepiece looks a lot flatter. (vertical: +1.7 in 2011, +0.9 in 2012. horizontal: +2.2 in 2011, +2.0 in 2012.)

    and of course, there’s the overall bad pitching, but just wanted to add to the discussion.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      Based on my own observations from watching his games on TV, I agree with you. Hitters have figured out what to look for with the “changeup”, actually a splitter, and lay off instead of swinging at pitches that bounce in the dirt.

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  18. LTG says:

    Why isn’t it bad luck that more of his non-perfect pitches are being hit hard this year than in years past? Pitchers have to throw strikes. Most pitches in the strike zone are hittable, especially if the batter is guessing right. Maybe more batters are guessing right this year than in years past. Or maybe he is throwing more fat pitches than previously. Maybe both. A lot more work needs to be done before any conclusions could be drawn.

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  19. AF says:

    This article is logically flawed. The argument seems to be that despite the large gap between his ERA and DIPS, Lincecum is not really “unlucky” for two reasons: (1) he made two bad pitches on Saturday that were hit for home runs, and (2) that DIPS is “more about repeatability or sustainability than what most people consider to be luck.”

    The first point is a category error. When people say that a pitcher has been unlucky because his DIPS are better than his conventional stats, they do not mean to imply that he never makes bad pitches. They mean that, overall, his conventional pitching stats are inflated by a randomly high percentage of batted balls falling for hits rather than being turned into outs. Whether any given pitch was good or bad has nothing to do with the claim.

    Which brings up the second point, ie, that DIPS shouldn’t be interpreted as luck. The argument appears to be that contrary to post-McCracken popular wisdom, a high-BABIP-inflated ERA is a reflection of bad pitching rather than bad luck (“Lincecum can be doing things that are causing him to give up a lot of runs now . . .”) but it is, for some reason, a special sort of bad pitching that is more likely to improve than other bad pitching (“. . . but history suggests that he won’t keep doing those things in the future.”)

    This is badly confused. For one thing, it conflates projection from past performance with DIPS. It is true that based on Lincecum’s pre-2012 performance, it is likely, barring injury, that he will improve on his 6.14 ERA for the rest of this season. But that would be true even if Lincecum’s 2012 performance were as bad as it looks; “history suggests” that he is capable of better. What Lincecum’s 2012 DIPS suggests is different. It suggests that his effectiveness *in 2012* is closer to league average (as reflected in his FIP and xFIP) than to the replacement level performance reflected in his ERA. To the extent the assumptions of DIPS are correct, that means precisely that Lincecum has been unlucky in 2012. There is no logical distinction between unlucky and “unsustainable.”

    Of course, the fact that Lincecum has been unlucky doesn’t mean he’s been good. His FIP and xFIP, while not as bad as his ERA, are mediocre, and terrible by Lincecum’s past standards. That — not any improper interpretation of DIPS — is why your friends would be right to disagree with you if you told them that “Lincecum has just been unlucky.”

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    • Jeroen Blok says:

      A better analysis than that of Dave Cameron I am afraid. I agree fully.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Good post.

      I think there is a huge misunderstanding of the implications of all of the DIPS research (exemplified beautifully in Dave’s article).

      The reason pitchers don’t have much control over BABIP and HR/FB is not because of dying quails and Yankee stadium home runs, it’s because once the pitch leaves the pitchers hand the control shifts over to the batter. And while each pitch, from the pitcher’s perspective, has a certain probability distribution attached to it, the hitter can only make one outcome. Therefore by definition the outcome of any pitch is going to be lucky or unlucky.

      For instance if Lincecum throws a fastball right down the middle on a 2-1 count, that’s a shitty pitch. But the odds of that pitch being hit out are still very, very low. In fact, for all pitches the odds of the batter making an out are by far the largest of any possible outcome.

      So when seeing if a pitcher is getting lucky or not, you have to look at *all* of his pitches and calculate the expected amount of home runs, doubles, swings and misses, balls, etc. that he’ll give up. And because strikeouts and walks take 3-4-5 pitches, they are much less prone to random hitter variation then balls put in play.

      In order for Lincecum to have not been unlucky given his solid K/BB numbers, he would have to be throwing 1 absolutely dogshit pitch for every 3-4 really good pitches. And Lincecum doesn’t throw any pitches that are nearly that dogshit for that to be the case – they would have to essentially be high school quality.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        You are missing the difference between what he throws in the stretch and what he throws out of the windup. Take it from someone who has seen most of his games on TV this year. His pitches out of the stretch this year actually are D__S___! His D__S___ pitches are not evenly distributed throughout his games. They all come after the first batter reaches base then a whole bunch more batters reach base and then a whole bunch get driven in. It’s not luck, it’s D__S___ pitching out of the stretch!

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    • mcbrown says:

      Well said – far better than I could have said it.

      I will add that it is an error of logic to look at homeruns that Lincecum has allowed for an explanation for the divergence between ERA and FIP. FIP already includes the actual homeruns he gave up. That his FIP is about the same as his xFIP means that homeruns have clearly not been his major problem.

      We seem to go through this kind of debate every season right around the time when people start to “feel” that sample sizes have become meaningful, even though they really haven’t. Last year the subject was Greinke. This year it seems to be Lincecum. I suspect he is a popular target due to his well-documented velocity decline (though the hand-wringing over his velocity usually fails to mention that his 2011 velocity jumped from the prior year, and his 2010 to 2012 decline is far less significant than the one-year change). The simplest explanation for his ERA remains the most plausible – Lincecum’s strand rate is unsustainably low and will improve, whether by random fluctuation or deliberate adjustments on his part.

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  20. chongo says:

    On a serious note- keeper league, drafted Timmy in the 3rd round, last week dropped him like a hot potato to hell. When your “ace” performs like one of the worst pitchers in baseball, your fantasy disaster is compounded by the roulette of streaming bums you must grab to cover for him. He was a nuclear trojan horse.

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  21. Hurtlockertwo says:

    It’s kind of like Albert Pujols struggling in the sense that when Tim figures it out someone is going to pay. It seems to be between the ears vice a physical issue. Even if his velocity is down he still strikes a lot of guys out..

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  22. everdiso says:

    This is how I feel about Matt Moore. People don’t realize the guy just sucks at missing the barrels of bats. But because he’s on the Rays, people will assume he’s destined to be a god.

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    • Brad says:

      Have you ever watched Matt Moore? It remains to be seen how good a career he will have, but comparing Moore to Lincecum the way that you are doing is incorrect in my humble opinion.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Moore has a 24.1 K% this year. Missing bats has not been his problem.

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    • JKB says:

      Dropped Lincecum and added Moore last week, after shopping around Lincecum unsuccessfully for the past few weeks (H2H non-keeper league).

      I am confident that Lincecum will eventually find his way back, but unfortunately, neither standard nor advanced metrics, nor the gap between them, can tell me when the “gap” is likely to close for Tim – next week, next month, September?

      What I was sure of when I did the add/drop, was that Moore was not going to stay in my league’s FA pool much longer. So I got more out of the FA pool than I could have gotten in a trade for Lincecum. Sure somebody else can now add Lincecum, but they will be taking on a lot of risk IMO.

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  23. Slats says:

    Lincecum is too great of a pitcher not to figure out his problems!

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  24. baby brother says:

    is linecum still worth owing in a keeper league? should i buy low for him this season?

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  25. Lincecum is just finally suffering from “Zito-itis”: things go wrong in the head when things get tough. And there seems to be similar cases like that in the past, like Beltran’s first year with Mets, even Pujols early season difficulties with Angels.

    Lincecum has shown this issue in the past. “First” of almost any type of game yielded a wild game where he walked a lot and gave up a lot of runs, while also striking out guys because most innings he didn’t have that problem, just in tight situations. The only first that I’m aware of where he didn’t have trouble pitching was his first playoff game, but at that point, he had just spent the past month pitching in must-win games with playoff implications the whole month, so there was not a lot of difference. It did show up in his first World Series start.

    And he’s been prone to losing it all of a sudden as well. His second month in the majors, he totally lost it for a long time. And if you go through his career, he would be going great then lose it for a month before straightening out. This is the first extended period beyond one month (and really only 3-4 starts in that month) where he’s done badly.

    So I wondered if the big contract would affect him. He technically had large contracts before, relative to prior contracts signed by similar year players, and really, at what point is $8M different from $13M different from $18M? They are all a lot of money that most people will never see in their life, let alone one season.

    But this was the first one where he was one of the top in the league, period (he was briefly the RHP with the highest per season average salary in a contract, until his teammate Matt “Perfecto” Cain signed his contract). He is also now the second highest paid player on the team (behind Zito) for this season, and will be the highest paid period next season. Whether people want to admit it or not, that’s extra pressure to live up to.

    And we see this behavior all the time with lesser players who seemingly are good most innings but will have that one big inning where it all goes Kerplooey and you get a crooked number up on the board. And as each bad start starts to creep into his head, the spiral just goes further downward it seems, until you hit rock bottom.

    As badly as Zito compares to his contract, he was positively Zito-esque in 2009 and 2010, minus a little for age, from his A’s form just before signing the big contract. He appeared to hit bottom in 2008, and his 2011 I believe is related to internal injuries from his horrific car crash literally just days before his first start of the season. Injuries that most people handle well because they sit on their butts all day in their office, but when pressed to extremes by a major league pitcher landing on his foot around 100 times each game plus bullpen sessions and so forth, his body finally gave out. People don’t realize this, but he actually pitched well in his first couple of starts in each stretch he pitched in 2011, then suddenly he would be bad and suddenly he was on the DL for the first time in his career, then second. This year, now healthy, he’s back to regular Zito.

    And apparently Zito’s too much of a thinker on the mound sometimes. According to a recent report, he’s absolutely pin-point in command in bullpen sessions just before games. However he just loses it in the game, sometimes, oftentimes. He’s been known as Zen-Zito, but really, to me, that is a front for what he’s been trying but unable to do, letting it go and literally be “catch ball, throw ball” and not think so much on each pitch. He apparently worked more on that approach this off-season, and he’s been better overall this season, though off the wagon enough times to remind us that Zito is still Zito.

    This is related to something Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in an article before, about the art of failure: http://www.gladwell.com/2000/2000_08_21_a_choking.htm

    There is explicit learning and implicit learning, but I like the terms explicit system and implicit system because at the point of execution and application, like throwing a baseball pitch, it is not like you are learning, really, but a system your body follows. But when using your explicit system, it is like when you are first learning, and thinking through all the steps in the process. As a kid, that don’t really matter as much, but at the level of professional athletes, you get whipped like you were throwing batting practice.

    When using implicit system, you are basically using your muscle memory to do everything you practiced up to that moment.

    So what the article notes is that at times of stress and pressure, the athlete suddenly switches from muscle memory to his implicit system, and all is lost. I think that is what is happening with Lincecum when runners get on base, and hence while his K/9 is great most times, his others metrics are out of whack during those innings where he’s suffering from stress.

    I also wonder if it could just simply be a case of the straw breaking the camel’s back. Along with the stresses I noted above, one of his long-term bugaboos is that he has never really figured out how to hold runners on base when pitching out of the stretch. Maybe he finally is trying harder this season to get that done, perhaps he felt obligated to do it now that he’s making the big money, who knows. Either way, if he’s thinking about it too much, that’s when pitchers try too hard and that would screw him up when pitching with runners on-base.

    When he will sort this all out is anybody’s guess. It has gone on longer than most would think. He actually had some good games during this stretch, on a PQS basis, but those big innings are what are killing him. He’s close but oh so far away still. I get the feeling that this won’t end until he gets home during the All-Star break and rests and resets his mind.

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    • ColeHamels1510_740M/770V says:

      “Lincecum is just finally suffering from “Zito-itis”: things go wrong in the head when things get tough. And there seems to be similar cases like that in the past, like Beltran’s first year with Mets, even Pujols early season difficulties with Angels.”

      No, he simply does not have the skill set to pitch with only a 90 mph fastball; unlike me, he does not have exceptional control, although he does possess a killer change-up.

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  26. yo-yo says:

    One comment; You say the Giants have a .279 BABIP. Dave you should know by now that when you calculate the Giants BABIP you should discount Matt Cain’s IP and BABIP before calculating the Giants team BABIP because Matt Cain simply does not fit FIP pitching stats. Remember Dave, BABIP takes eight years to normalize. We are almost their.

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  27. mrkwst22 says:

    …..so is Tim even worth a bench seat on a fantasy team?

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  28. My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan) says:

    Tim Lincecum has almost singlehandedly ruined my “high” expectations for my fantasy team. Alas Timmy, I love ya, but what the f dude. This article gives me hope that he’ll turn it around, but I’m feeling like all those Pujols owners now. :/

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    • whatever says:

      That sucks for you. Your biggest worries are your fantasy team, while I fuck hot bitches night after night after night and don’t have to work because stupid dominicans run dope for me all day long. My fantasy baseball team sucks too but I don’t care. Their are winners and their are losers and I’m not talking fantasy baseaball. I’ve gotta go shower off the stench of bitch 5 b4 bitch 2 gets here. See ya.

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  29. cs3 says:

    Sorry, but Tim Lincecum has not been worth anywhere remotely close to 1 win above replacement so far this season.
    My eyes, and those eyes of the vast majority of Giants fans and scouts alike tell me that he has been well BELOW replacement level.
    I dont think there is any way to rationally reconcile this discrepancy..

    Pitcher WAR is either completely broken, or everyone who has watched Timmy this year is completely insane.

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  30. john says:

    would timmy l be a buy low if i could get him off an owner for a bag of peanuts? or is he just gonna keep sucking it up this yr?

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  31. shane says:

    TIM LINCECUM IF YOU READ THIS DONT PITCH OUT OF THE STRETCH. PEDRO MARTINEZ USED WIND UP DIDN’T CARE ABOUT THE STRETCH OR WHO STOLE BASES. YOU STRIKE PEOPLE OUT AND HAVE DOMINATING STUFF WHO CARES IF THEY GET ON BASE. PITCH OUT OF THE WINDUP SCREW THE STRETCH. Its not working for him to pitch out of the stretch so just stay in the wind up. Your already giving up 6 runs a game. Might as well stay in the dam wind up. Its driving me nuts. people steal basees off him anyways.

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    • cs3 says:

      this is nonsense.
      It is well documented that over the past couple years he has also had a ton of problems with his windup, and many many times has actually scrapped it completely and elected to pitch out of the stretch for an entire game even with no runners on base.

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  32. Brent says:

    How is nobody is factoring in that this dude is coming off 4 straight years of 200+ innings and there’s currently nothing left on his fastball! Add in the fact he scrapped his slider and curveball and you have a very hittable pitcher.

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    • fergie348 says:

      Oh, he’s still throwing the slider and the curve – just check PitchFX for the breakdown but it’s low double digit percentages for both pitches. He’s just not throwing them very well and they’re getting hammered.

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      • halejon says:

        Seems the use of his curve in favour has plummeted in favour of his slider as he’s gone from dominant to ok though, no? Or is that the algorithm just grouping differently…He said he was not going to throw his slider before the season started and then it was that he was going to ease it in during the season to save his arm and then I think it was his third start he went back to it.

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  33. halejon says:

    I love the point you make here. We just don’t really have a good word for “statistical signal that is not significantly predictive of future results”. But using the word luck makes people think that you’re saying what is going on doesn’t have a tangible cause and is just fluctuation that will ‘even out in the end’.

    I mean, the fact that there aren’t players who provide meatballs that can be hit for such a high BABIP in the majors doesn’t necessarily mean that if you give Tim enough time in the majors he’ll cut out the meatballs…it could just reflect the fact that guys who lose it that bad for a significant period of time get sent down/retire/etc.

    I would like to write/read a similar article about regressing to the mean and how it just means that the probability is that someone is more is going to perform more averagely going forward — not that there’s some kind of guarantee that they’re going to crash and burn after a good season or that they haven’t turned a corner and changed something fundamental. All such great statistical tools but used in the wrong way, they end up churning out a lot of nonsense.

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  34. celticsmoke says:

    Maybe guys are missing on his mistakes more often because his mistakes are at 91, and not at 95-96…

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  35. Ender says:

    To be fair if you throw the ball right down the middle of the plate it is still hit for a HR less than 50% of the time so there is always going to be ‘noise’ in the stat no matter how bad your pitches are.

    Usually I only point to luck when all of the stats align with a players norm except one which seems like an outlier. If he just had a high BABIP and nothing else as an example. When the BB rate is up, HR rate is up and BABIP is up it falls outside of luck and there is usually a different explanation.

    I’m still buying low on him in fantasy, I expect him to turn things around. He has stunk from the stretch, on the road and the 1st time through the order. His stats look much closer to normal at home, with the bases empty and the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. To me that suggests it isn’t an injury and is something mechanical or mental.

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