Breaking Down Paul Goldschmidt's Domination of Tim Lincecum

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Breaking Down Paul Goldschmidt's Domination of Tim Lincecum
Ben Margot

As they, in all their they-fully wisdom, have been known to say: You win some and you lose some.

Unless you're Tim Lincecum, and Paul Goldschmidt is at the plate. In that situation, it's only becoming clearer that winning is somewhere outside the realm of possibility.

It was clear enough this was the case the last time Lincecum tangled with Goldschmidt and the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field back on April 3. Goldschmidt already had eye-popping numbers against the San Francisco Giants right-hander, and then got him for two more hits. One was a long solo home run.

By the time that game was in the books, Goldschmidt had faced the two-time National League Cy Young winner 26 times and had compiled a 1.886 OPS against him with six home runs. Ownage of the highest order, indeed.

Now, sure, one way to look at the matchup was with a mindset that Lincecum was probably due. Heck, if anything, he was overdue. Surely he'd give Goldschmidt what-for the next time!

Uh, no. Goldschmidt and Lincecum squared off again on Wednesday night at AT&T Park, and, sure enough, the Arizona slugger got him again.

Goldschmidt's three-run homer to right opened the scoring in the first inning, and he later added a sacrifice fly off Lincecum. The four runs Goldschmidt drove in ended up being the difference in a game the Diamondbacks won 7-3.

Presumably because he's a generally swell guy, Goldschmidt chose not to gloat after the game. Via Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com:

You'd never know it from looking at Goldschmidt's career numbers against Lincecum, which are now good enough to make his numbers against everyone else look decidedly cute by comparison:

Goldschmidt vs. Lincecum and Everyone Else
Split PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS
vs. Lincecum 28 .542 .536 1.458 1.994
vs. Everyone Else 1494 .288 .375 .504 .879

Baseball-Reference.com

In Lincecum's defense, every pitcher has that one guy who just gets him. Albert Pujols has a 1.772 OPS against Justin Verlander. Adam Dunn has four homers in only 14 plate appearances against Clayton Kershaw. Hanley Ramirez has three homers and three doubles in 16 plate appearances against Cliff Lee.

Still, domination along the lines of Goldschmidt's against Lincecum does make you want to ask questions, with the big one being: What the heck is going on here?

Well, beyond the simple reality that Goldschmidt is super-good and Lincecum's not as super-good as he used to be, there are some more specific things going on, too.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Since he didn't arrive in the big leagues until August of 2011, Goldschmidt has missed the days of Lincecum's mid-90s heat. In fact, there's a graph at Brooks Baseball that can show it was around the time Goldschmidt and Lincecum first met in late 2011 that his velocity settled into the low-90s niche it currently occupies.

It's not surprising, therefore, that Goldschmidt and Lincecum's fastball have a certain, ahem, relationship.

Brooks Baseball doesn't have a game log for the start Lincecum made against Arizona on May 30, 2012. But in digging through all the others and taking a look at what's what, this showed up:

Goldschmidt vs. Lincecum's Fastball
Split Count Swing% Whiff/Swing
Goldschmidt 36 58.3 14.3
All RHB, 2011-2014 2082 41.6 18.3

Brooks Baseball

Compared to most other right-handed batters over the last three-plus seasons, Goldschmidt has been much more aggressive in swinging at Lincecum's fastball. It's been worth his while, too. He's not only made a lot of contact, but five of his seven home runs have come against Lincecum's four-seamer.

So against Goldschmidt, Lincecum's primary pitch has basically been useless. Worse, his preferred secondary pitch against right-handed batters hasn't fared so well, either.

That would be Lincecum's slider. He's thrown it about 28 percent of the time against righty batters since the start of the 2011 season and has thrown 30 to Goldschmidt in their recorded encounters.

At first glance, it admittedly looks like said slider has fared well against said slugger:

Goldschmidt vs. Lincecum's Slider
Split Count Swing % Whiff/Swing
Goldschmidt 30 46.7 42.9
All RHB, 2011-2014 1407 48.0 38.4

Brooks Baseball

Goldschmidt has hacked away at Lincecum's slider about as often as other right-handed batters, and he's actually whiffed on it more often. This helps explain why Lincecum's slider is responsible for four of the five career strikeouts he owns against Goldschmidt.

...But not so fast.

When Goldschmidt has made contact with Lincecum's slider, he's hit it well. On record are a couple base hits, a double and a homer for Goldschmidt against it, and it sure looks to me like he got a hold of a slider here in that data-less game from 2012:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Simple stuff, this, but it explains a lot. Lincecum's diminished fastball has fooled Goldschmidt even less than it's fooled everyone else, and Goldschmidt has also been able to do damage against his favorite secondary pitch against right-handed batters.

If you're gonna get a guy, take note kids: Making his pitches your pitches is a pretty good way to do it.

But we also have to talk about location. That's another thing that's been a sort of theme in Goldschmidt's battles with Lincecum, especially coming into Wednesday night's action.

If there's a place pitchers must be careful with Goldschmidt, it's on the inner third of the strike zone. As Brooks Baseball shows, that's where he does his slugging. Giving him pitches to hit there just isn't very smart.

It's at this point that you can probably guess where I'm going with this.

If we take a look at a plot of Goldschmidt's first six home runs against Lincecum, we see that they found their way into the danger zone:

Data and image template courtesy of Brooks Baseball (with a h/t to Baseball Prospectus).

Note: I had to make a best guess for the location of the slider Goldschmidt hit for his fourth home run, but it was certainly toward the inner half of the plate and above the knees.

The last of these (the sixth) was a particularly impressive piece of hitting, as Goldschmidt took a fastball that was running up and in and blasted it into the pool area in right-center at Chase Field. 

It looked like this:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

After that game, Lincecum offered a blunt and honest assessment, telling Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News (and others): “It’s a game of adjustments and he consistently makes them to me. I need to make them.”

For instance, maybe try pitching him away? Given the degree to which he'd established his dominance on the inner half of the plate, surely a strategy such as that would work.

Until it didn't. The fastball that Goldschmidt sent over the right field wall on Wednesday night was right here:

Image courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

That's a fastball on the outer edge of the strike zone, otherwise known as the place where pitches don't necessarily go to die against Goldschmidt. But this one died anyway, because it's Goldschmidt vs. Lincecum.

If you're looking for brilliant ideas for how Lincecum can finally defeat Goldschmidt the next time they meet, well, too bad. Short of throwing him nothing but curveballs and splitters and/or giving him the Barry Bonds treatment, there's really not much left for Lincecum to try.

Although, the man himself hinted last week that there's one more trick he could try against Goldschmidt:

Ha. Good one.

...Seriously, though. That actually might be worth a shot.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked. 

 

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