San Francisco Giants: The Evolution of Tim Lincecum

This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.

During his career with the San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum has experienced many highs and lows. Lincecum is a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a four-time All-Star, three-time NL strikeout champion and a two-time World Series champion. He’s certainly accomplished a lot since he made his major-league debut with the Giants in 2007.

(Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle)

However, despite his pure dominance during his first few years in the major leagues, Lincecum has struggled in the past couple years. He showed his first signs of struggling in August 2010 when he had a 7.82 ERA. In 2012, Lincecum struggled all year with his command and finished with a 5.18 ERA. However, in the postseason last year, he reverted back to his dominant ways as a reliever.

He came into this season with a new attitude and wanted a fresh start. He’s seemed more focused and has had to make several adjustments to his pitching, given his recent struggles.

The biggest adjustment Lincecum has had to make is becoming more of a cerebral pitcher, since he’s no longer the same power pitcher he used to be. He’s more of a complete pitcher now who can locate his pitches and pitch according to who he faces. He’s not just an incredible athlete anymore who can solely rely on his freaky delivery and pitches to get hitters out.

Back in his Cy Young Award days, Lincecum dominated using his fastball and his split, or his changeup. His mid-90s MPH fastball, his mid-80s MPH change-up and his freakish delivery were enough to confuse and baffle his opponents.

His fastball is now 89-92 MPH, and his change-up is about the same speed as it was before. Given this smaller speed differential, players are now able to hit his fastball more, which is one of the reasons why he struggled so much in 2012. Players had figured out his funky delivery, and he wasn’t as unpredictable and hard to hit.

Because of the adjustment that hitters have made against him, Lincecum now uses and executes four pitches: fastball, change-up, curveball, and slider. Lincecum has found a way to still dominate without the mid-90’s fastball he used to have, but his high strikeout totals still show signs of the power pitcher he used to be.

“I’m evolving as a pitcher,” Lincecum said. “…I’m not necessarily throwing fastball-split like I used to. I’m learning how to pitch with what I’ve got. That might mean more change-ups or sliders that day or curveballs. I think I’ve got to get back to trusting what I have that day and that’s been kind of a turning point to getting out of these bad innings. That’s the key. It’s a real mental, mental game.”

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum stymied the Texas Rangers offense, giving up only one run over 8 innings to earn the win in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series. © Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

In order to become more of a cerebral pitcher, Lincecum has also learned more about the importance of situational pitching, scouting reports, and finding a rhythm with a catcher. Lincecum used to just throw the pitches that he trusted the most that night, not necessarily what pitch was right for the situation. He’s learned the importance of scouting reports and not just focusing on executing his pitches. He also knows to discuss this scouting report with his catcher so they can be on the same page throughout the game.

“I’ve been studying my hitters a little bit better,” Lincecum said. “That kind of alleviates any pressure to wonder if this is the pitch that they’re looking for. So I go out there with more of a clear mind and when you’re on the same page as your catcher, he kind of knows what you want to go to. So you’re not constantly wondering ‘is this what we want.’ You know that’s what you want and you’re just waiting for him to put it down.”

Lincecum has also struggled with his confidence over the years. In the early years of his career, he was confident with his pitches, his delivery, and his command.

His confidence looked shaken at several points during the 2012 season. Lincecum would start to fall apart in the fifth or sixth inning, partially due to him facing the opposing team’s lineup for the third time around, but also because he had trouble making adjustments to his approach. He hadn’t completed his conversion to more of a cerebral pitcher yet.

In 2013, he came into the season with a new attitude, and he’s looked much more confident in himself and more trusting of his pitches.

“I think you have to go back to trusting that those pitches are going to get outs, whether it’s your best pitch or not,” Lincecum said. “It’s just having that conviction in them alone helps turns a bad pitch into a better one. You finish it in your mind and not worry about the result.”

Through all of his struggles with his command and with his confidence, Lincecum has always maintained a good attitude. He’s never blamed his manager or teammates, and he’s always been grateful to the fans for believing in him.

“With the ups and downs, he’s had a good attitude,” Buster Posey said after Linecum’s no-hitter. “He’s continued to work hard. And this, I think, is a reward for it.”

This season, Lincecum had a horrendous May with a 6.37 ERA. However, he looked better in June, and, in the month of July, Lincecum has an impressive 2.53 ERA. Of course, he also threw a no-hitter on Saturday night against the Padres. Lincecum recorded 13 strikeouts, which is proof that he can still be a power pitcher at times.

(Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY Sports)

He also threw 148 pitches in the no-hitter. Many MLB fans and analysts were baffled by how many pitches Lincecum had to throw, but if anyone could throw 148 pitches, it’s Lincecum. His athleticism allows him to throw high pitch counts. He’s called “The Freak” for a reason.

Bruce Bochy and Posey both said that Lincecum was so dominant in the no-hitter because he got stronger as the game went on, his delivery was getting better and he wasn’t trying to force his pitches to land in a certain spot. Instead, he let his pitches do the work. He also mixed his pitches well, and he had command of all of his pitches at different heights and on the corners.

After Lincecum pitched two times through the Padres lineup, every hitter except Carlos Quentin had struck out. He struck out six consecutive batters from the second to the fourth inning, which matched the longest streak of his career.

Lincecum induced 29 swings and misses, which tied Randy Johnson for the most in a no-hitter since 2000. He was able to keep hitters off balance, and he got batters to swing and miss on all of his pitches. This no-hitter was a special performance, given everything Lincecum has been through.

Lincecum is one of the greatest pitchers in Giants’ franchise history, and he’s certainly one of the most unique. He can still be unhittable at times, but not just because of his freaky delivery. Lincecum now has a different approach, and he’s truly evolved into a completely different type of dominant pitcher.

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