Back in the beginning of August, I wrote an article that covered the basic concepts of a strength-gaining offseason program that the San Francisco Giants' Tim Lincecum can and should go through in order to begin regaining his former self, rather than continually decline each year at a geometric rate.
Most of what I discussed revolved around specific weight-lifting approaches for developing speed and power without gaining a lot of unnecessary bulk, something Lincecum has struggled with in the past.
But that is really only part of the equation for repairing what is broken with Tim Lincecum. The whole point of my first article on this topic was that Lincecum essentially has to make these strength gains in order to compensate for the toll his delivery appears to have on his body, which then leads to control issues and/or a drop in velocity from inning to inning.
However, this does tend to create the impression that his windup isn't the culprit as much as his physical conditioning is. This could not be further from the truth. Tim Lincecum's motion to the plate is very much a reason for his struggles as well, and it can and should be worked on this offseason.
One of the most recognizable aspects of his delivery is the extreme nature in which he wraps his right hand around his backside and "bounces" his elbow by creating a quick straightening motion with his right arm alongside his right hip and extending behind his rear end before lifting straight up with the elbow and into the traditional (but always exaggerated) "double L" position with both arms, a position he doesn't actually make since he's so late with his right arm compared to front side.
What happens is that Lincecum makes his right arm travel a long path to get from the stopped point behind his right hip to the release point. The longer the path, the more momentum can be generated. Madison Bumgarner is a great example of a pitcher who does this well.
But Lincecum does not create a smooth arcing motion of sorts with the ball as he drops his arm down and out of his glove. What he does instead is drop down for more momentum, but he essentially stops the momentum when he straightens his arm out ever-so-momentarily behind his hip. Now extra strain is required in order to regenerate the momentum with his right arm.
In order to compensate for the long path his arm travels, he strides considerably further than his height, which is atypical, to say the least. Most pitchers use around 98-106 percent of their height for their stride length. The longer stride length also helps generate even more momentum toward the plate and usually creates the impression that Lincecum is really "jumping" at the hitter with each pitch.
But this comes at a price, and the price is repeatability. It just is not easy to perfectly recreate a stride length that long from pitch to pitch. Lincecum actually looks like he's shortened it a bit over the last year or so, but I think that has been problematic.
If Lincecum shortens his stride length, the path his right arm travels needs to also shorten accordingly, or else he'll start being even later with his arm, with the front leg landing that much sooner than it normally would.
This results in a slowing of the arm, which might be a factor in Lincecum's struggles with his off-speed pitches. It also results in trying to speed the arm up too much to compensate, which leads to bad location with the fastball, no increase in velocity and a tendency to throw through off-speed pitches and leave them straight and a little up, another problem Lincecum has had this year, especially with his changeup.
Beyond that, it starts to result in tinkering and so on, and then things spiral until finally the pitcher finds some sort of workable motion to survive with for the rest of the season.
Lincecum needs to simplify his delivery, to be succinct. A shorter stride length will allow him to repeat that portion of the delivery with more efficiency. A slightly shorter arm action will help the upper body stay timed and in sync with the lower half.
But above all else, I think Lincecum needs to literally change the way he takes the ball out of his glove and begins the throwing motion. The temporary stopping of his arm's momentum can certainly lead to elbow strain that can have a slow, cumulative effect. It's the most unorthodox part of his delivery. The rest is pretty good power-pitching mechanics, but exaggerated to the point where he gets out of whack easily.
But the arm action prior to getting the right arm up and extended behind his head is unorthodox for a reason: it just is not mechanically sound. Rather than curling the wrist forward and turning the ball down toward his right back pocket and then "picking up" the elbow, he should be taking the hand out of the glove with a rotating motion of the forearm that has the thumb sweeping down toward the ground and then back up in the air behind him like a backwards "C" motion in which he leads back up into the air with his hand more than his elbow.
It sounds complicated, so I've included a link to his delivery in extreme slow-motion here so you can see for yourself.
At one point, Lincecum was young and fresh enough to get by with these deficiencies, because what they hampered in terms of control was overcome with pure stuff, and then when the velocity began to dip as a further result of this delivery (along with an inappropriate offseason regimen), he began to struggle once his off-speed stuff was affected along with the diminished fastball.
He could get by with 91-92 when he was consistently throwing a changeup at 85 with good arm action and late movement. Now, he leaves more of those up and with less diving action due to more problematic arm action.
I think these improvements to his delivery, along with the strength gains detailed in my first article on the subject, can make serious inroads toward improving Lincecum before next season. After he's been all but officially excluded from making a postseason start this season, the first thing he needs to do is go to work on getting back into position to make the Game 1 start should the Giants return to the postseason next year.
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