When San Francisco Giants starter Tim Lincecum broke into the majors back in May of 2007, he was a mop-topped, rail thin kid firing mid-90’s bullets toward home plate. While he still might fit the physical description of a high school freshman, his pitching approach has changed drastically over the years.
During the 2007 season, Lincecum averaged 94.2 MPH with his fastball, throwing the pitch about 67 percent of the time while mixing in 81 MPH curveballs (thrown 20 percent) and 84 MPH changeups (13 percent). Take a look at his pitch selection since that point:
Lincecum’s fastball velocity has dipped nearly three MPH since 2007, and he’s going to the heat far less often. Instead, he’s increasingly relying upon what can only be described as a toxic changeup.
According to our pitch type run values, Timmy’s change has been worth +3.27 runs per 100 pitches over the past three calendar years. It’s the sort of offering that can cause batters to have an existential crisis at the dish: Lincecum has thrown the pitch for a strike 75.9 percent this season (60.7% MLB average). It has a 34.3 percent whiff rate (12.6% MLB average). The pitch has been swung at 69.9 percent of the time (48.1% MLB average), to no avail.
While the Pitch F/X data differs somewhat from the Baseball Info Solutions data in the chart above, we can see that Lincecum is going to a two-seam fastball a little over 16 percent of the time in 2010. Previously, Lincecum tossed a four-seamer with little horizontal movement but a good deal of “rising” action, relative to a pitch thrown without spin. That may help explain Lincecum’s career-high 50 percent ground ball rate this year.
Lincecum, sitting 91 MPH with a four-seamer and two-seamer and going to his change over a quarter of the time, is even harder to hit than his previous, higher-octane self. His contact rate, between 74 and 76% from 2006-2008, is just 70 percent this season (80-81% MLB average). That’s tied with rotation mate Jonathan Sanchez for the lowest mark in the majors. Lincecum’s swinging strike, which ranged from 10.3-11.8% from ’06 to ’08, sits at an obscene 14.4. Opposing hitters just can’t lay off his stuff: Lincecum has a major league-best 35.8 outside swing percentage in 2010. That blows away his 24-27% marks the previous three years, as well as the 27% big league average.
In 42.1 innings so far, Lincecum laps the field with a 1.98 expected FIP (xFIP). The closest competitor is Roy Halladay, at a still-ridiculous-but-distant 2.78. Lincecum is punching out 11.91 batters per nine innings (best among starters) and has issued just 1.7 BB/9. Aside from his cap (the only thing nastier than his than his changeup), Lincecum has changed just about everything since he debuted. And right now, he’s pitching at a different level than the competition.