Tim Lincecum has looked like a different pitcher over his last two starts with Buster Posey behind the plate in place of Hector Sanchez.
Over his first three starts with Sanchez catching, Lincecum struggled. He allowed 13 hits, 12 runs, 12 walks and three home runs in 16 innings of work. His ERA was 5.63.
In his last two starts against the Padres, Lincecum has suddenly looked like a different pitcher. He's allowed 10 hits, two runs, five walks and no home runs over 13.2 innings. His ERA with Posey catching him this season is 1.32.
Given that Posey was also the catcher for Lincecum during his phenomenal run as a reliever last postseason, it seems obvious that he should be catching Timmy. Posey is a better defender than Sanchez, and Lincecum needs all the support he can get at this point in his career.
Posey is much more athletic behind the plate than Sanchez. He clearly does a better job of framing the ball to get borderline pitches called strikes for his pitchers.
According to research done by Matt Klaassen, Posey ranked as the fifth-best defensive catcher in baseball last season. Sanchez ranked as the sixth-worst. Thus, the numbers back up what most Giants' fans have been observing over the last year-plus.
This looks like an open-and-shut case. Lincecum has looked dominant in the two starts that he's made this season with Posey catching. He was exceptional pitching to Posey last postseason and terrible in his lone postseason start with Sanchez catching. The advanced numbers and the eye test combine to show that Posey is superior to Sanchez defensively.
Thus, as long as manager Bruce Bochy keeps pairing Lincecum and Posey together, Timmy will continue to pitch well, right? Well, not based on last year's numbers.
Lincecum's statistics based on who was catching him last year are not available anywhere that I could find online. Therefore, I had to compile Lincecum's numbers from last season throwing to each of the Giants' three catchers using his game log available at ESPN.
I then looked at each box score to see who the catcher was when Lincecum pitched. Finally, I created a spreadsheet with Lincecum's numbers throwing to each catcher and totaled up the final results.
Last season, Lincecum threw to Sanchez 16 times, Posey 15 times and Eli Whiteside twice. Surprisingly, my research found that Lincecum had a better record and ERA last year when Sanchez was catching him.
With Sanchez catching, Lincecum went 6-5 with a 4.87 ERA in 88.2 innings pitched. He allowed 85 hits, 50 runs, 48 earned runs, 44 walks and 11 home runs while striking out 84.
With Posey catching, Lincecum went just 3-9 with a 5.46 ERA in 85.2 innings pitched. He allowed 86 hits, 54 runs, 52 earned runs, 41 walks and nine home runs while striking out 92.
With Whiteside behind the plate, Lincecum went 1-1 with a 5.39 ERA over 11.2 innings pitched. He had one fantastic start and one bad one throwing to Whiteside last season.
The good news from last season is that Lincecum's rate of strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed were slightly better with Posey catching him. Strikeout, walk and home run rates are less dependent on defense and luck than ERA and won-loss record.
Thus, while Lincecum allowed fewer runs per game and won more games with Sanchez catching last year, his core numbers were actually better with Posey catching.
If you prefer traditional stats like wins, losses and ERA, then Lincecum did throw better with Sanchez catching him last year. If you prefer modern, advanced stats like strikeouts per nine innings pitched, then Lincecum actually pitched better with Posey catching despite the sky-high ERA.
Posey has been the catcher when Lincecum has looked at his best so far this season. Posey could be the reason for Lincecum's improved results over his last two starts. However, given last season's results, it's too early to conclude that definitively.
Lincecum could have made a mechanical or mental adjustment that is the reason for his improvement. Or, his results could be completely random and have nothing to do with who the catcher is. Perhaps the Padres lineup just isn't very good.
Posey should continue to catch Lincecum because he's a very good defensive catcher and Sanchez is not. Sanchez should honestly be in Fresno working on his game. It's doing him no good to sit on the bench in San Francisco right now. Playing everyday at Triple-A would help improve his game much more than rotting on the bench.
However, even if Posey continues to catch Lincecum, that doesn't guarantee Timmy will keep pitching well. For that to happen, Lincecum will have to keep making pitches regardless of who the catcher is.
If Lincecum is going to continue to have a successful season in 2013, it's going to have more to do with the guy on the mound than the guy behind the plate. Posey can put the right signs down and steal a few extra strikes, but Lincecum will have to continue to show improved command of his arsenal.
After Lincecum's last two starts, there are reasons to be optimistic about him again. However, it's not fair to Lincecum to give all the credit to Posey. Lincecum deserves the majority of the credit for his outstanding recent work.
All statistics in this article are courtesy of ESPN.
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