For two years, Tim Lincecum was my favorite player to watch. This year, the diminutive righty of the same name simply isn’t the same pitcher. Instead of stunning 9-inning gems, we’ve been party to merely the above-average. And lately, it’s not even been that. Some might call it an overreaction, but to me it’s clear that Lincecum is not the same pitcher as he’s been in years past.
Of immediate concern is Lincecum’s loss of velocity on his fastball. His first pitch in the league was a 99 MPH heater, and I doubt he could even get within 5 miles of that now. According to Fangraphs, he’s now averaging 91.3 on his fastball—still with some speed, but not close to the 94.2 when he entered the league. By the 6th or 7th innings, he’s often sitting in the mid to high 80s. What’s more concerning is the separation in velocity between his fastball and his secondary pitches. Each of them is actually faster than it was last year. At a minimum, this has been a large part of the reason his change-up has been less effective. Instead of a full 9.2 MPH separation in 2009, it’s been just over 7.
The walks are up. Maybe this is because his pitches have been less effective and hitters have been able to fight them off more often. Or maybe he simply doesn’t have the control he used to. But his walks now sit at 3.41BB/9, higher than they were in either of his Cy Young seasons. He even had a string of 4 games in a row with 5 walks. He had three combined in all of 2008 and 2009. Couple this with a decreasing strikeout rate and you have his rookie season all over again.
The similarities to his freshman year in the bigs are striking: almost same strikeout, walk, and homerun rates. But he threw mid-90s in 2007. Today he throws low 90s. Whether it’s an undiagnosed injury, a mechanical problem, or maybe simply the outgrowth of his unusual pitching motion, he’s doesn’t have the stuff he used to.