In August of 2010, San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum was 11-8 with a 3.72 ERA and everyone, including me, was wondering what was wrong with him.
Well now it’s June of 2012 and things are worse. Much worse. Lincecum is 2-8 with a 6.07 ERA and the lede of the article about him I just linked to is about how he lost 30 pounds in the offseason (he’s down from 190 to 160 pounds) and is trying to gain some back. No, seriously, read:
“Tim Lincecum looks back at his extreme, 30-pound weight loss before this season and wishes he had approached it all differently.
He insists he dropped it too fast, taking drastic measures. All because the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner didn’t feel quite right at the 190 pounds he reached in 2011 eating whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The thing is, he was still winning then. But his body began to hurt, in ways it never had before.”
Lincecum weighed the most he ever has in his whole life and still managed 13-14 with a 2.74 ERA on a bad team in 2011.
He felt the worst he ever had in his life and decided losing 30 pounds was the way to handle that problem. I remember when he was a young phenom and everyone was lauding him for being “different,” from his delivery to his long hair to his lifestyle. Now he just kind of sounds idiotic and maybe even a little anorexic:
”As a pitcher, we get caught up in the fact that as a pitcher we’re the center of attention, we’ve got to control the pace of the game and when we can’t control things it upsets us. To not be able to control it at a level like this and also when it’s continuously happening it kind of makes you check yourself and look in the mirror.”
In 2010, Lincecum just didn’t feel right, but in 2012, he is actually, for the first time in his career, a below-average pitcher. Fangraphs bears this out even simply in terms of pitch velocity. For example, Lincecum’s fastball is averaging a career-low 90.4 miles per hour, while his changeup velocity is remarkably consistent at 83.4 mph. Problem is, of course, that their velocities are closer together than they used to be. So it would appear Lincecum isn’t fooling anyone when he goes off-speed because no one has to speed their bat up for an average fastball.
Lincecum’s BABIP is also a career-high .323, which in normal times would signify that he’s just experiencing bad luck when the ball is put in play. However, his line-drive percentage has jumped six percent to 25.5 percent, meaning a quarter of the contact he gives up is being hit hard and 56 percent of all contact he gives up is in the air. Couple that with a jump in his home run percentage, and you’ve got a pitcher who definitely isn’t fooling anyone.
You’d think after 2010′s minor fiasco that Lincecum would have learned his lesson about tweaking his approach to baseball. Pitchers who have been as successful as he has been generally don’t monkey with their diet or windup this often. Hell even pitchers who aren’t successful very often don’t do that.
The Giants are currently 40-32 and three games out from first place, and that without anything major from their best pitcher. It helps to have Matt Cain et al. to back him up but still. Lincecum is even getting a little emo about the fan reaction to his bad pitching, even though there doesn’t seem to be one.
And that’s the thing. Most Giants fans seem to think that the Cy Young winner will figure it out and get back to form. You just have to wonder about Lincecum’s mental status if some quasi-disaster happens every couple of years because he was either eating whatever, starving himself, or tweaking his windup for no apparent reason.
I actually bought into the notion that baseball players were professional athletes who took their games as seriously as basketball or football players, but I’m starting to think that’s a tremendous amount of crap. Baseball might still yet be a game for weird personalities and guys who are a little “different.”