Freakishly Cautious Optimism

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Tim Lincecumm’s 2014 season is an inspiration to everyone who played a game of Madden on All-Pro, won in blow out fashion, and immediately got their ass kicked when they tried to play on All-Madden.

Lincecum didn’t go to the pause menu and adjust the difficulty settings on his career, but the 5 miles per hour he lost on his fastball had pretty much the same affect. Going from someone who could touch 97 mph on the radar gun to someone who has to reach back and channel the power of his ancestors just to get to 92 is something that can kill a pitcher’s career. Some pitchers in this game only get by on velocity and big ass beards alone. And since we already know the the Freaky Franchise has the same beard growing ability as I did when I was a freshman in high school, he’s not gonna be intimidating anyone with pirate-inspired facial hair. (But for real look at that pic of Brian Wilson. I feel like he’s about plunder a Spanish trade ship before goin’ off to kick it in the Bahamas every time the Dodgers call him into the game.)

The thing about throwing the ball hard is that you don’t have to be as pin point with your location. Who gives a fuck if your late 90’s fastball is right down the middle. Even at the major league level you can get at least one of three necessary strikes with a poorly-placed fastball that comes in at a high velocity. Don’t try that shit with a 92 fastball though, cus it’ll get crushed like the dude in the batter’s box was swinging with one of those old school aluminum college bats. (PING!)

A slower fastball wasn’t a problem just because faster fastballs are harder to hit, but also because Lincecum used his fastball to set up his other pitches. His changeup/splitfinger, his slider and his curve all have the same basic movement. They drop off the face of a goddamn cliff, like when Scar Killed Mufasa in The Lion King. The game plan in the Cy Young Award-winning years was to start hitters off with a mid 90’s fastball and then mix in off speed pitches with heavy sink to get the kind of strikeouts you get when you hit X way too early in a game of MLB: The Show.

I’ll admit, that corny ass music in the video really distracts from how abusive some of those strike outs were, but the important thing to note here is the number of swing through strike outs. Sure, sometimes he can catch a hitter off guard by going with a slider in an apparent fastball count and catch batters looking, but the Ks are coming primarily on swings over off speed pitches with late sink at the end. And as long as the fastball stayed in the mid 90’s, batters of the NL were gonna stay having Freddie Kruger type nightmares about his filthy ass curve ball that starts at the knees and ends up bouncing off the plate.

The problem with Lincecum since 2011 has been his inability to change to new constraints on his own velocity. Lincecum’s days as a power pitcher are done. That in itself is not too discouraging. (Shout out to Jamie Moyer and his 81 MPH retirement home fastball)

The discouragement came when he looked like a pitcher who didn’t know what to do when his velocity left him. Now batters didn’t have to gear up for a 97 MPH fastball to start the at bat. Now they were looking at 92 MPH. A 92 MPH fastball that didn’t always have the best location. A 92 MPH fastball that hitters didn’t have to start their swings hella early for. A 92 MPH fastball that didn’t exaggerate the change in speeds to the curve ball and change up that had gotten him so many outs. His strikeout numbers went from 261 in his first Cy Young year to 190 and 193 in 2012 and 2013. The funny thing about these numbers is that 190 strike outs is still pretty fuckin good. What the high strike out total points to, however, is a high pitch count. Baseball stat nerds like myself agree that of all the “new” numbers that the sabermatricians have come up with, the quality start stat is by far the lamest. It’s a stat that requires a pitcher to go at least six innings, giving up three runs or less. That’s a pretty average start by most standards, but Lincecum has found himself burning himself out by the fifth inning, leaving very little in his arm to pitch well in the sixth inning. The grand exception to this rule is that weird no hitter he threw against the Padres in 2013.

Fans used to worry about this 5’11, 170 pound man breaking down if the pitch count got too high and Bruce Bochy had to sit and watch as his under sized pitcher log 148 pitches. Most times when pitchers throw no hitters they make it look effortless. No body made a no-hitter look harder than when he did it (with the exception of Edwin Jackson).

That no-hitter was cool and all, and it gave fans some (false) hope that maybe this is when Lincecum would figure out how to be dominant again, but 2013 was a lost year for him and the team. And then, because he enjoys destroying the Padres, he turns around and no-hits the them again. And it looked like his “Fuck Yo Hopes And Dreams” curve ball was back.

But, this was a different type of dominance. Lincecum got his strikeouts because that’s just what he does. But for one of the few times in his career, he wasn’t relying on the punch out. Even the last out of this game was a breaking pitch low in the zone that got a harmless ground out to second. If we can all take a second and forget that the Padres appear to be the only team in 2014 still playing in the dead ball era, we can start to see signs that maybe the pitcher who used to have untouchable stuff is now learning to pitch to contact. He still had six strike outs in his no hitter on June, 25, 2014, but he only threw 113 pitches with a walk. When looking at the season-long trends in 2014 as compared to his previous two seasons it appears that Lincecum is actually about to turn it around. His ERA has been on a decline since May, where it was up around 7.20. Even his strikeout totals don’t appear to be too far off from his career average.

Its too early to tell what kind of pitcher Big Time Timmy Jim will be the rest of his career. He could become a ground ball pitcher or he could use the sink on his pitches to finesse his way to high strike out totals. Whatever form his pitching style takes, if he is able to be figure out a way to get outs at a rate even remotely close to what he was doing in 2010 then he can still be a cornerstone player for the Giants. This is a team that won a World Series in 2012 while their Freaky Franchise player didn’t even make the postseason starting rotation. (Remember when all the Giants fans cringed as Barry Zito took the mound and the team finally felt like they got their money’s worth when he shut down the Cardinals in the 2012 NLCS? It was redemption story so perfect/corny I felt like I was watching a Disney movie starring Emilio Estevez.) Anyway, with the Giants battling with the Dodgers fr for first place in the NL West, some fans are going to argue that the Giants need another strong arm in the rotation to put them over the top. If Lincecum starts throwing his abusive curve every once in a while, maybe the front office can address some other needs. Needs like getting the Barry Zito redemption movie script to Steven Spielberg. Just think about it, he could make the movie in 3D so the numbers on that stupid ass $126 million contract pop right out off the screen.

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