Tim Lincecum could dazzle with the best of 'em between 2008 and 2011. But then the baseball gods took his powers away in 2012, dooming most of his trips to the mound to be a struggle.
But then there are those other times. Those times when, even if it's often just for a moment, Lincecum gets his powers back.
Like what happened Wednesday afternoon. Lincecum did it again.
It was a less effort affair this time. After needing a whopping 148 pitches to finish off the Padres last year, Lincecum needed only 113 pitches to finish them this time. He walked just one, struck out six and recorded 12 of his other 21 outs on ground balls.
The final out looked like this:
Quite a few pitchers have thrown two no-hitters, of course. But in collecting a second against the Padres, MLB says Lincecum joined a club that now contains only two members:
Now, as cool as this is, it also highlights the less awesome aspect of Lincecum's no-hitter. The Padres weren't a very good offensive team last year, but they're a historically awful offensive team this year.
There's a stat called wRC+ that measures total offensive value in runs as compared to league average (represented by an even 100). According to FanGraphs, the Padres have a team wRC+ of 75, making their offense 25 points worse than league average.
That's not just the worst in baseball this year. That puts them among the 30 worst offensive teams in the AL/NL era (since 1901). Hence, historically awful.
There's your warning not to get too carried away in thinking about where Lincecum goes from here. Even with his second no-hitter in the bag, he still only has a 4.42 ERA this season. And it's not like he'd been heating up, either, as he came into the game with a 6.85 ERA in June.
Point being: It's not a good idea to expect Lincecum's no-hitter to usher in a full-time return of his old powers. That's expecting too much.
If Lincecum's no-hitter proved anything, it's the same thing his first no-hitter proved: that he can still dip into his old powers on special occasions.
For all the things from Lincecum's Cy Young days that he doesn't have anymore, the one thing he still does have is a nasty collection of secondary pitches. There are still few pitchers out there with a slider/curveball/changeup mix as good as his.
We can tell that by noting how, according to BaseballSavant.com, Lincecum is in the top 20 in swinging strikes on off-speed pitches this season. Further, Brooks Baseball says eight of Lincecum's 12 whiffs Wednesday afternoon came on his secondaries. Five of those whiffs finished off strikeouts.
Pretty good stuff for a guy who, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, didn't think his stuff was all that good:
He's probably right, but that's another point. Even when Lincecum's stuff isn't at its best, it's still really good.
And one thing Lincecum is doing with his off-speed stuff is trusting it more.
Per FanGraphs, his fastball usage fell to a career-low 50.0 percent last year and is down even lower at 47.3 percent this year. And just as only 61 of Lincecum's 148 pitches in his no-hitter last year were heaters, only 39 of his 113 pitches in this year's no-no were fastballs.
It's hard to maintain consistency when you're throwing so few fastballs, but that does help explain Lincecum's occasional flashes of dominance. Any team that's having a tough time hitting his secondaries is going to have a tough time hitting him, period.
And heaven help that team if Lincecum also has good fastball command that day.
Good fastball command is something Lincecum doesn't always have these days. Brooks Baseball has the strike percentages of both his four-seamer and sinker since the start of last season under 30 percent. That's...uh, not good.
But sometimes Lincecum's fastball command is there.
That was the case in last year's no-hitter, as he threw over 60 percent of his heaters for strikes. It was once again the case this afternoon, as he got strikes on about 60 percent of his heaters.
Which leads me to agree with this sentiment from Eno Sarris of FanGraphs:
He's right, you know. What made Lincecum's fastball so effective when he was winning Cy Young awards was its velocity more so than his command of it. Ever since all that zip evaporated, consistently substituting good command in for good velocity has been an ongoing struggle.
When Lincecum's able to do it, though, good luck.
Not long from now, I suspect that the general reality of today's Tim Lincecum will come back to the surface. He's bound to have a start that forces us all to remember that, oh yeah, it was the Padres he faced, and that his talent level is not what it used to be. Then we'll sigh and reminisce about what he used to be.
But he still has it in him, folks. We were just reminded of that, and it won't be the last reminder we get.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
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