Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tim Lincecum: The Whole Package is Our Ace In The Hole

I was surfing around and saw a link to this article where the author interviewed Tim Lincecum's dad, Chris. The author happened to write a nice article about Tim and someone passed it on to Chris and Chris contacted the author and graciously offered to be interviewed (lucky!). It was very interesting so I thought I would pass it along, in case any of you haven't seen it elsewhere.

Nice Breakdown

It gave a nice breakdown of Tim's repertoire on the mound. As he noted, "Mind you I'm very prejudiced when it comes to my children," but still, he explained things in a very clinical and detailed way. I found it very exciting to read his thoughts on his son, his theories on pitching, and how he compares to pitchers of old.

And that got me thinking about how some people say that players way back when seemed to have longer careers, particularly Satchel Paige, who was still pitching effectively into his late 40's (of course, he probably attributed part of his longevity to his theories on health, like how he avoided fried foods, because they "rile" the blood). Plus, Leo Mazzone learned his theories on pitching from a player from the older days, Johnny Sain, if I recall correctly. And obviously, they appear to work, even Chris was throwing in the mid-to-high 80's when he was in his early 50's.

Our New Roving Pitching Instructor

So then I thought, "Chris Lincecum should be our new roving pitching instructor!" He has his theories and they make sense to me, though I must admit that the really technical parts were over my head, I don't know the theory of pitching that well. But I do understand how you want to pitch to a batter in and out and mainly away, and it is the art of deception where you become a pitcher and not a thrower. And obviously, his son is a great example of his theories at work. As the rover, he would travel around and instruct our farm system in how to throw better and more efficiently.

Of course, it could be all genetics, perhaps the Lincecums come from a long line of rubber armed men. Plus, his father did not throw professionally for a long time, where the wear and tear would build up. But when he noted Marichial, it clicked for me, because when I saw the videos of Lincecum throwing on MLB.com, because all the experts noted his unique pitching motion, I was shocked at how his motion was unusual, not as the "herky-jerky" motion some noted, but by how smooth and graceful it looked. And I thought he looked like someone else throwing but I couldn't figure it out until the Marichial mention. Obviously, Marichial has his high kick that is unique, but the smoothness with which he threw is where I see the similarities to Lincecum.

Tim has a very smooth and economical motion. As he has noted in an interview, he uses his whole body to throw the ball. I didn't know how literal that was until I read the interview with his dad in the link above, where he describes Tim's mechanics:
The mechanics he uses along with maintaining core muscle strength (and most important the small muscle strength) is why he can throw for so long, while still maintaining his velocity late in his games (even after throwing 125+ pitches). The small muscles are the wrists, elbow, shoulder, lower-back, groin, and around the knee and ankles....
That's getting down to the nitty gritty!

He's the Whole Package

And that's according to Tim's coach at San Jose, not his dad. Again, very interesting notes on Tim's demeanor: "He doesn't let things on the field get to him. He just learns, adjusts and moves on. Maybe his best trait is [that] he's always been a team player since he was little." That is a great philosophy, and it sounds very much like how Matt Cain operates, in terms of learning and adjusting.

Chris also noted, "Personally, I believe he could do all. And like the old timers he could start one game and relieve others. Wouldn’t affect his game or performance...Tim's mentality between the lines is as a pitcher (a gun-slinger if you will).He can handle all roles (starter, mid-relief, set-up or closer). His mentality is old school just like his mechanics." I like pitchers who think that way, old school. Krukow was one, he wanted the ball and wanted to win, and Lincecum clearly looks like he is made from a similar mode, except that he has more skills, and Krukow had pretty good skills himself.

Where his Dad Sees Tim in 2007

With a father's pride, he noted that he thought that Tim was better than anyone on the Giants staff right now and could start if asked. He confirms what I've been reporting, that Sabean sees Tim as a starter. Very interestingly, apparently the Giants told Tim to be on call in 2006, as they would call him up as necessary. Unfortunately, that long losing streak probably put a kibosh on that thought - if they were still in contention, with Sanchez struggling so much starting, they clearly would have brought up Lincecum, a la Cain in 2005, to start a few games. His dad thought that if he was called up, it could have given the team a lift.

For the record, Tim's father thinks that Tim will be in a Giants uniform in 2007, perhaps early. How early, he didn't clarify, but clearly, by reading between the lines, if he thinks his son is better than anyone currently in the rotation, he probably thinks Tim should be in the starting rotation in 2007. Since the Giants are letting him compete in spring training, clearly the Giants would be willing to let him come north with the team if he pitches well.

Sabean Lying?

Someone who e-mailed the author questioned Sabean's veracity about why Lincecum was not brought up, since it appears that the pitch count for Lincecum was no where nears where what Matt Cain and they are similar in age and Sabean noted that Lincecum pitched the equivalent of 35 starts. Chris noted that Sabean was perhaps merely embellishing.

I would have noted that the conventional saber-thought on Lincecum, as propounded by Baseball Prospectus and their Pitcher Abuse Points, the point is not merely how many pitches you throw, but also how many pitches you throw during a game. The more you throw, the exponentially worse - or so their theory goes - it is for your arm. So they take the number of pitches over 100 that a pitcher has thrown, they have a multiple to multiply this number by, which increases with the number of pitches above, and sum it for the season. Based on what I saw calculated on one website, Tim had one of the worse by far, with the PAP being in the hundreds of thousands, where most were much lower, in the tens of thousands or less.

Not that Sabean would know what PAP is, but essentially, that fear came from the same root: the high pitch counts Lincecum experienced during the season in individual games and the increased effect that would have on his body and arm. The fear is that despite the low overall pitch count, the wear and tear on his body is magnified exponentially by the high pitch counts in those games. How Sabean got 35 games, I have no idea, but it appears to me that he does a lot of things that people don't really get either.

However, PAP is not a be all or end all. A BP analyst, Will Carroll, who is their medical expert (though not a doctor but has written a book about pitching and injuries), has said that he loves Tim's mechanics and would chose Tim, if he had to pick a pitcher to start a franchise. In addition, according to Rotoauthority, BP's PECOTA prediction system is predicting an ERA of 3.18 for Tim in 2007. So it looks like the people who devised and promote PAP, apparently overlooks this metric when it comes to Tim Lincecum and his future.

Ace in the Hole

I just get more and more excited by Tim Lincecum! I know that this is biased information, because it was his dad, but it is one thing to say that your son is better than anyone else, but it is another to break down your son's pitching repertoire and how it can be used to attack batters, plus describe how pitching the wrong way can negatively affect certain parts of your body. And the multitude of pitches that Lincecum can throw totally reminds me of Juan Marichial, who had a large number of pitches he used to attack batters. I especially like the fact that his off-speed pitches have the same throwing motion as his fastball.

And "attack batters" is the right phrase to use for Lincecum. He has a killer attitude. And I believe his father when he said that if the Giants had brought him up, it would have had a positive impact on the team. I think players like that bring others on the team up a notch. I think Tim could have been our Ace in the hole last season and definitely in regards to the future of our franchise.

Lincecum is Our Next Will Clark

That's why I am now envisioning Lincecum to be our pitching equivalent to Will Clark. Clark had a cocky attitude, but it wasn't smug confidence but a firm belief in his abilities as a ballplayer, with a winning attitude. Lincecum definitely embodies that way of thinking (as does his father). And Lincecum has shown the abilities to "walk the talk", much like Will Clark did.

All of Tim's travails reminds me a little of how Tiger Woods was received when he turned pro. Many of the pros thought that he was overhyped, but ignored the fact that he was doing things that many people in his same position could not do. They disrepected all that he had accomplished as an amateur and wrote him off. But once he played with the big boys, he showed why he did all those things when he was an amateur. I believe Lincecum will do the same when given the chance.

The Future Centerpiece is NOW the Young Pitching Rotation

I've been beating this drum to death, but our post-Barry centerpiece is our young rotation and the future is looking closer than it seems, it looks like it could be now. Lincecum will be the Spahn to Cain's Sain, except that we won't need to pray for rain because we will have Zito and Sanchez in the rotation as well. People like to beat up on Morris, but I think some are forgeting that in today's hyper-offensive period, pitchers with low 4 ERAs are actually good pitchers and mid-4's are average pitchers, and Morris was in both of those ranges for the season, once he settled himself down, until he was pitching injured.

I have been talking about how having a double-ace rotation is probably the surest way towards winning in the post-season. Starters who are that reliably dominant - particularly in terms of DOM% vs. DIS% per the PQS metric I post here - greatly improves the chances of winning in a short series. I've talked about how Cain looks to be an ace in the making, but Lincecum now clearly looks to me to be the double-ace I've been hoping for a playoff winning rotation. Follow that up with Zito, Morris, and Lowry, and, man, what a rotation that would look like in 2007!

Hopefully the future is now, but, even if not, the future is looking good for the Giants, despite all the naysayers who are calling for Sabean's head. He has had a plan, and the plan has been to stock up with pitchers, pitchers, and more pitchers. He lucked out that Lincecum fell to him, but the key point is that when fate gave him the opportunity, he didn't pass like the other 9 teams ahead of him, he picked Lincecum, and that was clearly the right move.

Not only that, but he showed Lincecum some love by giving him a bonus that was representative of the bonus given in the previous year, not the discounted amounts draftees were getting in the 2006 draft - Lincecum, if he had slotted in line with the other draftees, should have gotten a couple hundred thousand dollars less. That show of respect will hopefully earn points with Lincecum when it comes time to sign him to a long term extension. And that could be coming soon, within a year or two, I would bet.

With Lincecum and Cain heading the rotation eventually in the near-term future and Zito and Sanchez manning the middle, the Giants rotation could be a playoff sweeping machine that it wouldn't matter how average the offense was, as long as the Giants will save money with a cheap and young rotation, they will have money to buy offense on the market and absorb the Alfonzo Albatrosses that come our way without suffering a down season.

And I'm serious about making his dad the roving instructor. He clearly have strong ideas about how to get pitchers to throw without hurting themselves. And it is not radical ideas, it sounds like he takes old-time mechanics and infused it with modern knowledge about fitness and exercise. And if anyone has noticed, a number of our top pitching prospects have gone under the knife in recent years - Valdez, Joaquin, Griffin, Foppert. Heck, even throw in Francisco Liriano, who, while never under the knife appears headed there evenutally. What if Chris Lincecum had straightened out his mechanics?!?

6 comments:

  1. Good post. The Lincecum article is by far the most useful piece I've seen on him and really gives a good feel for just how unusual Tim is--three fastballs, two curveballs, a slider, a changeup, and a splitter. And he's also got a knuckleball that the Giants won't let him throw. Damn, that's awesomea. Shades of Marichal who never showed the batter the same pitch twice.

    Without Lincecum and Cain there would be no hope for a future.

    David of Santa Fe

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  2. Martin, that was what I was thinking when reading the article: why *isn't* this guy our roving pitching instructor?

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  3. Zito, Cain, Lincecum...3 potential staff aces. That's what makes the future exciting.

    Imagine if Lowry has a solid year and Morris shows up like his old self from St. Louis. That could be an amazing rotation....one of the best in baseball.

    The Giants may not have done much that was exciting as far as position players this winter, but man are they loaded with arms. Reload some bats this coming offseason and they'll be dangerous in 2008.

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  4. As much as I wish Zito was a staff ace, especially for the money the Giants will be laying out for him, the more important thing to me is that he be productively useful for the life of the contract, versus being the "Ace" in 2007/8/9. But yeah, if he can duplicate his last two years results plus get the NL reduction, he should be ace-like.

    I think that the Giants can be dangerous in 2007 if the rotation shapes up pretty well with Zito, Cain, Lowry, Morris, and Ortiz. As a recent article in The Hardball Times noted (which I've been wanting to write about), it is more productive towards winning to reduce the runs given up rather than to increase the runs scored by a similar amount. There is a leverage in getting runs given up down, than to try to outscore the opposing team.

    To illustrate, they imagined a team that scored 5 runs, what the winning percentage would be (using Bill James Pythagorean equation) if they gave up only 1 run, then turned it on its side and calculated how many runs you need to score in order to win at the same percentage while giving up 5 runs and that turned out to be something like 15-16 runs per game average. Thus a .500 team that scores and give up 5 runs on average can get to that high winning percentage by reducing runs given up by 4 runs or by increasing runs scored by over 10 runs.

    I'll try to figure out what the deal is with a better example later, I'm headed off to dinner now...

    But yeah, if everyone has a solid year (not outstanding but Lowry and Morris around 4 ERA, Cain matching his post-skipped start stats, Zito pitching like he did the past two years plus the NL reduction in ERA, and Ortiz returning to Ortiz-like scary but good pitching, which would be great for a #5 starter, else Sanchez would be it, and if he falters, then Lincecum by mid-season) then I think the Giants offense, as many problems as there may be, is balanced enough that they should win a lot of games with that good rotation (assuming the rotation turns out well).

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  5. http://www.fresnobee.com/345/story/43576.html

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  6. what i want to know is....does Tim have a girlfriend????:)

    ReplyDelete

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