Tim Lincecum was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in the first half of the season by virtually any statistical measure. The second half has seen improvement (3.93 ERA and 1.46 WHIP over his last six starts) but he still isn't the Timmy of 2008-2011.
Lincecum looked sharp against the Dodgers in his last start, but it wasn't what we're used to seeing from him. Sure, he was consistently 92 to 93 mph with the fastball and showed good command and movement with his curveball and changeup, but when the sixth inning rolled around he quickly deteriorated. The fastball suddenly was only about 90-91 and his control was diminished significantly.
This is a troubling sign, but not an irreversible trend.
Lincecum's diminutive stature should not be a limiting factor to the extent that it appears to be. And right now it does appear to be the main factor in his decline. All of his other problems spring forth from his size and strength level.
Because Lincecum does not have the prototypical pitcher's build like Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner, he has to use more of his body, and with more effort, to generate similar stuff. If he were to drastically simplify his delivery he would most likely lose so much stuff that he simply would not feature major league-caliber offerings.
So he makes up for this with a delivery designed to maximize his effort. But this requires more moving parts and more complexity in the motion, which means more things can go wrong.
It isn't a coincidence that when Lincecum is throwing strikes he usually looks sharper with his velocity and the movement on his offspeed pitches, a natural result of being in sync with his motion. But the motion exists as it does, and always will, because he simply cannot survive any other way. He'll always be close to a maximum-effort kind of pitcher because his size and current strength level mandates as much.
But there are things he can do to improve his strength and conditioning in a way that will allow him to slightly simplify his delivery or pull back a little on his effort in favor of better control while still maintaining good stuff deep into ballgames, the season and his career.
The pitching motion is basically two explosive movements that the lower body goes through. The back leg (Lincecum's right leg) repeatedly performs a partial squatting movement while balancing the entire body, then it propels the entire weight of the body forward until the front leg "catches" the body's weight and immediately performs a maximal contraction in order to stabilize the midsection while the arm comes through with the pitch.
Stand on one leg, squat down partially, then jump in the air as high as you can and land on the other leg as softly as you can without allowing that knee to bend more than a few degrees. Now do this for sets of 10 to 15 reps until you cannot keep landing perfectly. Count each off-balance landing as a ball and each perfect landing as a strike.
That's what a pitcher's legs go through. So it makes sense for Lincecum to focus on generating speed and power with his lower body without gaining so much weight that his agility is hampered.
The fact is that it was a complete joke, and a pathetic one at that, when Lincecum reported to Spring Training two years ago and proudly declared that he had gained 20-25 lbs through a steady diet of In 'n' Out burgers. He ended up feeling uncomfortable with the weight gain, despite the alleged strength that came with the extra bulk, and dropped back down to about 165 lbs by Opening Day. He went through a similar ordeal this spring.
What is the source of Lincecum's problems?
Lincecum seems to understand that he would benefit from being stronger, but he has no clue how to go about doing this effectively. At a salary of about $20 million, it is inexcusable for him to not have a personal trainer and dietitian who can help him gain maximal strength with a minimal weight gain. Lifting weights, especially for his legs, will help immensely.
This means lifting for speed and strength, not size, the cornerstone of any explosive athlete's workout program. All sorts of weight-sensitive athletes do so. Boxers, MMA fighters and even football players at certain positions need all the speed and strength they can get without gaining so much weight that they find themselves out of their weight class or too heavy for their position. All other things being equal, the stronger, faster athlete is ALWAYS the better athlete.
For years there has been a basic feeling that pitchers should lift for high reps and low weight for endurance, supplemented by much more long-distance running than sprinting. This is wrong.
At the risk of sounding esoteric, Lincecum would benefit from lifting light weights for low reps and lots of sets (at least seven or eight) as explosively as possible, or the heaviest he can lift with perfect form for multiple sets of one rep. This should be supplemented by explosive jumping movements and ballistic medicine ball throws and slams. Long-distance sprinting rather than even longer-distance jogging is also preferential. These are the foundations of any successful athlete who performs explosive movements. They may be altered from sport to sport, but the basic concepts are the same.
By doing these things and hiring a dietitian who can maximize the renewed offseason workouts Lincecum should be engaging in, he can really turn things around by next year.
His size leaves him with a decided disadvantage compared to most pitchers, but the one thing he can always control is how hard he works and how he goes about taking care of his body. The reality is that for him to remain relevant, he is simply going to have to outwork everyone else in the offseason. There are few great athletes in any sport who didn't consistently do the same from year to year.