Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants is mired in the worst stretch of his career. Excluding a couple of promising outings against the A's and Dodgers, the beloved long-haired hurler has been struggling to find himself.
Lincecum limps into the All-Star break with a 3-10 record, a bloated 6.42 ERA, and an abnormally high 1.58 WHIP. His underwhelming first half ended in what was a microcosm of his season up to this point. The Pittsburgh Pirates chased Lincecum in just 3.1 innings, as he gave up six runs on seven hits, which included big flies from Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker.
There are a number of things going wrong for Tim Lincecum this season. Here, we'll take a look at his stats to pinpoint some areas of concern.
Note: The following stats, via ESPN, include up to July 7. They do not include Lincecum's last outing against Pittsburgh on July 8.
Lincecum hasn't been his normal self on any pitcher's mound, whether it's on the road or at home in the City by the Bay. But it's important to note that he's pitched markedly worse on the road.
Home: 3.99 ERA in 8 Starts; 22 ER, 1 HR, .227 AVG
Away: 8.45 ERA in 9 Starts; 41 ER, 8 HR, .297 AVG
In 2012, Lincecum has given up about four earned runs per game at AT&T Park. Not great, especially for Lincecum's standards. But at least the Giants have a shot at winning.
Looking at his road numbers, the Giants don't have a snowball's chance. Hitters have their way when Timmy's on the mound away from San Francisco. They hit for more power and a much higher average, as Lincecum often looks like a fish out of water. The two times the Giants won on the road with Lincecum on the mound (June 22 vs. Oakland and Apr. 23 vs. the Mets) were the only times Lincecum gave up three runs or fewer on the road.
In an unconventional twist, righties are actually faring better against Lincecum than lefties. Righties are batting a whopping .278 with eight home runs and 36 RBI against him in 187 at-bats.
Lefties? They're hitting .244 with just one home run, and 21 RBI in 180 at-bats.
Conventional wisdom would say Lincecum needs to just keep logging innings so he can make his pitches and get his confidence up. But the story of 2012 is that Lincecum rarely ever gets a chance to get started.
Hitters are getting to Lincecum early in the count. Opposing batters are first-pitch hacking against the Freak, and they're not letting him get much in the way of leverage.
0-0 Count: 11 Hits in 39 AB (.282 AVG)
0-1 Count: 3 HR, 13 RBI, 14 Hits in 35 AB (.400 AVG)
1-0 Count: 12 Hits in 27 AB (.444 AVG) 2 HR, 5 RBI
1-1 Count: 13 Hits in 30 AB (.433 AVG)
What this could be is a mix of control, predictability and confidence issues for Lincecum. In some instances, he's not locating his pitches like he wants, and hitters are feasting on mistakes over the middle of the plate. When he does make his pitch and they hit it, it's most likely because the hitter was sitting on a specific pitch.
Part of that predictability problem relates to his low confidence level. If Lincecum doesn't have confidence that he can throw an effective changeup with control, or add good snap to his curveball in a certain count, he might throw a fastball instead because he feels most comfortable with that pitch. Unfortunately for him, that could be the pitch the hitter is looking for.
In addition, the general rule of thumb for pitchers is it's important to get strike one to start the at-bat. This is because pitchers want to get ahead in the count to gain control and put the pressure on the hitter.
For Lincecum, he's still getting roughed up even when he gets ahead early. The most important pitch for Lincecum appears to be strike two. If he gets that, he's nearly unhittable:
0-2 Count: .120 AVG
1-2 Count: .192 AVG
2-2 Count: .077 AVG
3-2 Count: .174 AVG
This part of Lincecum's game is not as glaring a problem as it initially appears to be. In 72 full counts, Lincecum has 26 walks. Opposing hitters have a .472 OBP in those counts, essentially making it on base half the time. Strangely enough, Lincecum is actually doing better in this situation than in his 2008 Cy Young campaign, when he issued 46 walks in 137 plate appearances, good for a .486 opposing OBP.
So what does this mean? Lincecum has always been this kind of pitcher. He gives out a few free passes when the count runs full. In the past, if he lost a batter here and there during a full count, it wasn't the end of the world.
Nowadays, here's why Lincecum's extra walks become a problem...
Lincecum has had a particularly tough time when pitching from the stretch this year. Whether it's because he doesn't have the same rhythm, flow or balance that he has during the windup can be speculated. But the numbers don't lie.
None on: .244 AVG, .731 OPS
Runners on: 285 AVG, .848 OPS
Runners in scoring position: .314 AVG, .964 OPS
With the bases empty, hitters are not nearly as effective against Lincecum. When runners get on, however, opposing teams begin to make their move. And it gets even worse when runners get to second or third base. At that point, it seems like they're almost destined to score.
To just say it's one thing that's dogging Lincecum is incorrect. It's a mix of factors. Everything from mechanics, control and confidence level. There are plenty of factors to analyze.
As obvious as it sounds, Lincecum needs to get better at keeping runners that are in scoring position...from scoring. He can help himself out by issuing fewer walks to reduce the number of baserunners. But he's going to have to overcome his fair share of pressure and adversity.
Lincecum—and the Giants as a whole—needs to get better on the road. The last two series against Pittsburgh and Washington are indicative of that.
Easier said than done.
Bruce Bochy continues to show faith in Lincecum, as he will get the second start out of the All-Star break against the Houston Astros.
Lucky for Lincecum, it's at home.