Clearing the bases: Lincecum's struggles

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
1:12
PM ET
LincecumBrad Mills/US PresswireSan Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum has given up more runs in the first half of the season than he did all last season.
First base: Lincecum loses again. Jayson Stark gave his first-half Cy Yuck award to Tim Lincecum and deservedly so: After getting knocked out in the fourth inning on Sunday, the two-time Cy Young winner finished the first half at 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA, worst in the majors among qualified starters. Lincecum has allowed 72 runs after allowing 74 all of 2011. "You never want to say, 'Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that," Lincecum said after Sunday's game. "But when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what happens, happens."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Lincecum will be the team's No. 2 starter coming out of the All-Star break. Lincecum supporters will point to the fact that he's averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings as evidence his stuff is still there and his .333 average on balls in play is one of the highest in the majors. However, it's more than just "bad luck" that is plaguing Lincecum: It's mostly bad pitching. He has little command of his fastball and hitters are taking a lot of pitches, leading to walks and high pitch counts. His offspeed stuff can still produce strikeouts -- in part, because he's getting to a lot of two-strike counts as hitters work deep into the count. However, Lincecum's inability to make good pitches can be seen in what happens when the batter gets ahead in the count: They're hitting .345/.538/.605 in those situations; a year ago they hit .269/.457/.446.

I didn't watch Sunday's game but I charted his previous start against the Nationals, another blowout loss in which he got knocked out in the fourth inning after allowing nine hits and eight runs. A few notes from that start:

  • He allowed four hits that could have been caught. In the first inning, Steve Lombardozzi lined a single up the middle off the glove of shortstop Brandon Crawford. It was a 3-1 fastball and Lombardozzi smoked it. In the second inning, Ian Desmond grounded a single past a diving Pablo Sandoval (who may have gotten his glove on it). It was a hard grounder off 1-1 breaking ball, but a third baseman who doesn't resemble a doughnut may have made the play. In the third, Ryan Zimmerman grounded another base hit past a diving Sandoval off an offspeed pitch. In the fourth, Bryce Harper lined a double past Buster Posey at first base. It was a fastball right down the middle that Harper hit hard.
  • OK, while those four could be classified as unlucky (or at least the two hits past Sandoval), Lincecum also constantly missed his target. Danny Espinosa doubled to deep center field in the second inning as Hector Sanchez set up low and away, but Lincecum's fastball was up and over the plate. A bad pitch. Later in the inning, pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (a good-hitting pitcher) lined a double to right off a hanging breaking ball. In the third, Adam LaRoche just missed a home run with a double off the center-field fence. Sanchez had set up inside but Lincecum's pitch was belt-high on the outside corner. Desmond followed with a home run off an 0-1 curveball, that wasn't a terrible pitch, just above the knees, but Desmond crushed it to left field (he was 9-for-11 at that point in his career off Lincecum). It was also the same pitch Desmond had singled off earlier in the game.
  • Lincecum threw 87 pitches in the game, faced 21 batters, gave up seven balls classified as line drives, allowed five extra-base hits, fell behind in counts, missed locations and hung some breaking balls. There just wasn't a lot of bad luck in this start. The key in the second half is getting command of his fastball back. Lincecum is undoubtedly one of the most important pitchers of the second half. Right now, I don't know what to expect. His first start will be at home against the Astros, but the tougher test will be his first road outing (where he has a 9.00 ERA this season).
Second base: Dynamite Desmond. Speaking of Desmond, the All-Star shortstop homered again on Sunday, giving him six in his past 11 games and raising his slugging percentage to .515. Desmond has 17 home runs -- only two fewer than the other NL East shortstops combined. Since 1990 only seven NL shortstops have slugged .500 over a season -- Barry Larkin (three times), Rich Aurilia, Bill Hall, Hanley Ramirez (three times), Jimmy Rollins, Stephen Drew and Troy Tulowitzki (three times). Desmond was miscast as a leadoff hitter the first 40 games, but he's settled nicely in the fifth and sixth slots. Some doubt whether the power is for real, but keep in mind he also has 24 doubles. That's 43 extra-base hits, tied for second in the NL behind Joey Votto.

Third base: Bauer power. Arizona rookie Trevor Bauer made his third start and it was finally a good one (insert Dodgers caveat here) with six scoreless innings and two hits allowed. After relying heavily on his fastball in his first two starts, Bauer threw more offspeed pitches against the Dodgers, throwing them 54 percent of his time. The Dodgers went 0-for-10 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with Bauer's offspeed stuff, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also threw his "reverse slider" for strikes 12 of the 13 times he threw it. (Bauer calls the screwball-like pitch a reverse slider.) With Daniel Hudson out for the season, Bauer's second half will be vital to Arizona's playoff chances.

Home plate: Tweet of the day. With Matt Cain drawing the All-Star start for the National League over R.A. Dickey, Adam Rubin had this tweet:

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