Tim Lincecum has fallen from the dominance he once had in his back-to-back Cy Young campaigns.
Many have speculated his fall from grace is due to his extremely violent delivery combined with his small stature. Scouts also predicted this would become a problem as Lincecum’s arm accrued mileage.
Whatever the problem is, it’s noticeable. In his Cy Young-winning seasons of 2008 and 2009, Lincecum’s ERA was 2.62 and 2.48, respectively. However, in 2012, his ERA ballooned to 5.18. His strikeouts were also down considerably, from 265 and 261 (08 and 09) to only 190 in 2012.
So what, if anything, can “The Freak” do to regain his Cy Young form?
Unfortunately, this is extremely easier said than done.
Lincecum’s delivery is unorthodox, to say the least. If you watch in slow motion, you can see his wide stride, arched back and whipped arm follow through.
Reputable pitching instructor, Coach Mills, analyzes the variances in delivery from Lincecum’s days in AAA when he was routinely reaching the upper 90s, compared to a game Lincecum pitched in 2011.
Whether you believe Coach Mills' analysis that minor tweaks can fix the pitcher, one thing is for sure: Lincecum needs to study tapes of his old form and try to replicate it.
Lincecum used to be known for extreme offseason workouts. Though also notorious for his severe In N Out addiction (seriously, three Double-Doubles), Lincecum would throw up to five days a week and play 100-yard long toss.
Lincecum described his offseason workout to the San Francisco Chronicle:
Because of his petite frame, training is vital to his success. Given his workload and delivery, pitching takes a toll on his body. Thus, maintaining muscle and conditioning is crucial to his health throughout a long season.
Obviously this goes hand in hand with offseason workouts and mechanics; however, arm strength is absolutely necessary to improving his velocity.
As my colleague, Art Wellersdick, points out, his velocity diminished as the innings piled on, which in turn negatively affected his off-speed pitches. A batter won’t swing and miss as much when the difference between a fastball and changeup is only a couple of mph.
If his fastball can consistently hit 93-96 mph, along with an 85 mph changeup, Lincecum will again miss a lot of bats and increase his strikeouts.
If you can’t place the blame on his stature, lack of arm strength or mechanics, what else is there? The problem could simply exist between his ears.
Lincecum hit a terrible stride in 2012 which likely screwed up his confidence. Recently crowned NL Manager of the Year, Davey Johnson, told the Washington Post: “I’m a firm believer this game is 90-95 percent mental.”
The San Francisco Giants may have suspected this could be a problem when they played Lincecum out of the bullpen for much of the 2012 postseason. Lincecum responded perfectly, posting a minuscule 0.69 ERA and helping the Giants win their second World Series title in three years.
Will this confidence carry over into the 2013 season? Only time will tell.