More Needless Worrying: Timmy’s Velocity
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports recently wrote an article detailing the concerns over some of Tim Lincecum’s lost velocity from his first big league call-up to 2009. Allegedly, Timmy’s velocity has taken a noticeable dip from a 94 mph average to a much more pedestrian 91-92 mph. With this seeming to be the vogue thing to talk about within the Giants camp, let’s observe the potential reasons behind lost velocity. Having already gone over the reasons for Madison Bumgarner’s lost fastball, there may be a fair amount of rehashing to be done here.
Let’s begin by looking at Timmy’s first season from a statistical standpoint. In his call-up season back in 2007, he finished the season with a 4.00 ERA, 4 BB/9, and 9.2 K/9 to go with a 1.28 WHIP. Not too shabby for a 23 year-old a year removed from throwing to college hitters. Radar guns in the ballpark for Timmy’s first start against Philadelphia had him touching 100 mph three times in just the first inning. Upon his call-up, Lincecum was primarily a two-pitch pitcher, with a hard fastball and a power curve.
Year two of Lincecum’s career ended with a Cy Young after he finished with a 2.62 ERA, cut down on his walks, and upped his strikeout totals. His average velocity hovered around 94 mph, although he still had a pension for getting a wild hair up his nose with 3.3 BB/9. The changeup he’s known for today was not yet a primary weapon of his, and largely he was still getting by with his above-average fastball.
Then came the fateful year three, which ended with his second Cy Young, but a substantial dip in velocity. Pundits from every direction immediately pointed to his immense workload, with 227 IP in 2008, followed by 225.1 innings in 2009. For any pitcher this represents a massive increase and for a pitcher built like Timmy seems like an injury waiting to happen…if Timmy were any other pitcher. Keep in mind that Lincecum is guy who according to legend threw 144 pitches in a game while at the University of Washington and was seen playing long toss foul pole to foul pole the following day. They don’t call him “The Freak” for nothing–the man has a rubber arm (knock on wood).
So why the loss of miles on his fastball? The simply explanation here is that Timmy stopped being a thrower and became a pitcher. In three seasons, he’s come to understand the subtleties behind changing speeds to gain movement and control. If you track his walk totals per 9 innings in the last three years, he’s gone from a 4.0 BB/9 rate to a miniscule 2.7 BB/9 in 2009. He stopped throwing his two-seamer exclusively, and began to use a four-seam fastball which inexplicably doesn’t have as much velocity.
He’s learning that in order to locate pitches and keep hitters off balance, you sacrifice velocity. Remember that first game back in 2007? He was throwing an 83 mph curveball with little to know idea of where it was going to compliment his erratic triple-digits fastball. Nowadays his curve will consistently sit between 75-79. In addition to all this, he now has complete mastery over the filthiest changeup in baseball.
At this point it’s hard to see anything wrong with a loss of a few miles on a fastball as long as Timmy’s arm isn’t about to fall off. He’s certainly come a long way since that first season, having evolved into the most dominating presence on the mound in the Major Leagues. As long as he stays healthy and effective as ever, it’s hard to fault him for taking some speed off of his fastball.