2012 vs. 2013
For 2013, around mid-year, Gaudin was somehow able to get Lincecum to start preparing for games and studying hitters, when none of the other Giants could do it before. Of course, pitching as poorly as Lincecum was in the first half, at some point you got to admit that it's not working and you got to try something else. And he actually had an OK second half (though not up to his standards post-Cy even), it was just that the bullpen let a lot of his inherited runners score, which boosted his ERA up high in the second half.
Still, I think it was all for the best, because it got Lincecum to keep looking for answers, to keep striving to improve himself, and that led to his working on being a pitcher and not a thrower for this season.
"It wasn't a stuff day. It's where I was able to put it," said Lincecum. That's been Lincecum's goal this season: setting up hitters, inducing crappy contact from them. Also left unsaid, but something you can see in the box score, was issuing less walks, which was what he was doing a lot of early in the season, but as he was still learning how to do things, he was giving up a lot of hits too. So he started working on that and the walks came back. Once he got that figured out, he could switch back to what he learned earlier this season and now he's giving up less hits and less walks.
The strikeouts will always be there, I think. There is something about his stuff that gets guys out easily and he will turn to it when he needs to get the strikeout. But now he knows how to do things that pitchers can do to get batters out, he didn't need that before, but now he's learning all the tricks of the trade, because his stuff isn't enough anymore, and the last 5 starts are signs that he's putting all that education to bear on other teams, I believe.
That's the key difference between his first no-hitter and his second. In the first, lots of pitches, lots of strikeouts, but four walks too, along with a lot of foul balls. In the second, only one walk, only 6 strikeouts. He is hitting his spots, inducing weak contact early in the count, and he finished with 113 pitches instead of 148.
Of course, there will probably still be some ups and downs. That's Big Time Timmy Jim, even when he was Cy Young good. But Righetti confirmed a lot of the above in an interview he gave Baggerly on a day after the no-no. He noted that in the first one, there were a lot of foul balls, but in the second one, "his control was outstanding." And even when he missed, he missed where he wanted, so that he wouldn't get hurt, like he's been getting hurt the past two seasons. Lincecum has learned how to pinpoint place his pitches where he wants: location, location, location.
Giant Bet Paying Off
This is the bet the Giants made in the off-season, that Lincecum was close to figuring things out. And so far he's doing it. There is a lot of season to go, but you have to start somewhere, and I would note that in both 2012 and 2013, he was bad for the most part through most of the first halves, whereas today, while his overall numbers don't look good, he's actually been pretty good for two months now, that first month is distorting his overall numbers. I was glad when they signed him, as I believed in this changes, and I see no reason to change my mind.
He's a Hit as a Hitter Too!
And to boot, he's improved his hitting as well. He was very impressive battling the opposing pitcher and dragging out his AB to 11 pitches. If a pitcher can do that 2-3 times each game, he helps the offense even if he doesn't get on base, that just helps wear out the opponent. It is almost like he's applying his lessons learned as a pitcher to help improve himself as a hitter. And he's been getting hits too, for the whip cream on top.
As I noted in my research study before, if a pitcher can just reach replacement level hitting, he can change one loss into a win each season (using Pythagorean), turning a 16-16 season into a 17-15 season, small change, but for the whole rotation, over a full season, that changes a 81-81 average team season into a 86-76 season, not far from the playoff contention. That's a huge change for not much effort, it seems to me, I'm surprised NL teams haven't focused on this before.