Tim Lincecum’s Surprising Drop in Production

Tim Lincecum five years ago was earning himself the nickname “The Freak.” Lincecum was just breaking into the majors in 2008 as a dominant starter with the wicked wind-up and throwing motion. All the talk was about how his stride was longer than his height, and that the motion his dad helped him develop causes minimal stress on the arm while acting as a catapult to launch the ball.

This season was the first year Lincecum struggled as a starting pitcher since he became a full time starter in 2008. His ERA for the year was 5.18, and for the second season in a row he lost more games than he won. However, in 2011 his 13-14 record was more of a description of the team as a whole considering Lincecum managed a 2.74 ERA throughout the year as he ended with a Felix Hernandez stat line of minimal wins combined with an impressive ERA.

Five years ago when Lincecum was relatively new to the majors but already on his way to winning the Cy Young, he was blowing hitters away with a high-90’s fastball that the sub-6 foot tall pitcher was dealing out. Lincecum came into the league as a power pitcher and that’s how he led the San Francisco Giants to the 2010 World Series.

Now Lincecum’s velocity has dipped to the low-90’s and hitters are finally catching up. While some pitchers take a hit to their velocity in order to improve accuracy, this doesn’t seem the case with Lincecum. Lincecum had a career low number of walks in 2009 with 68 in over 200 innings pitched. Since 2009, as his velocity has dropped, his number of walks has risen up to the 90 batters who received a free base in 2012.

With such a large and seemingly impactful drop in fastball velocity over the years, it is becoming apparent that Lincecums body has not kept up with how demanding his throwing motion is. How else can you explain his fastball reaching 100 mph in college, and now sitting in the low-90’s as a 28 year old?

Lincecum never had a power pitchers body, he was able to make up for it though by his long stride and the slingshot action of his arm. He had the delivery that with enough time put in, any athlete could perfect and see similar results. He showed you didn’t need a big body with muscles, that even a short player weighing 175 pounds with enough flexibility could throw the ball past any major league hitter.

The only thing that seemed to be working against Lincecum was age, as players grow older they become less flexible, weaker, and have to rely on their smarts to be a successful major league pitcher. The motion Lincecum uses takes more energy and athleticism than the other more traditional deliveries pitcher’s use in the majors. That is why at the young age of 28, when he should be entering his prime, Lincecum is apparently leaving it.

With the Giants coming off their second World Series win in three seasons, that will hopefully be enough motivation for Lincecum to train hard this offseason and try to get back to the level he played at as a young major league pitcher. The fortunate thing for both the Giants and Lincecum, is that 2013 is Lincecum’s last season under contract for the Giants.

With a salary of $22 million in 2013, the Giants will have one more year to see if Lincecum can return to his Cy Young form of 08’ and 09’ before they make the decision to either re-sign him, or let him walk as a free agent.