Merely two games into their matchup with the Giants and the Phillies are already making me eat crow.
A couple of days ago, I made a prediction about how the Phils would fare against Tim Lincecum aka ‘The Freak’ and I could not have been more wrong. You can read about that prediction here.
Phillies’ pitcher Kyle Kendrick displayed a coolness on the mound last night, constantly getting ahead of hitters in the count 0 – 1, 0 – 2. Lincecum, on the other hand, was falling behind hitters in his seven innings of work. This created a situation where the Phillies could look for a fastball.
Speaking of Lincecum’s fastball, I was looking at some numbers on FanGraphs.com that could explain why he’s been struggling this season. In 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young Award which is given to the best pitcher in each league. In 2008, Lincecum’s fastball velocity was 94 miles per hour while the velocity on his change-up was 83.3 miles per hour, a difference of just under 11 miles per hour. Obviously this worked for him as hitters didn’t know whether something hard or something soft was coming. He threw fastballs 65% of the time and his change-up 15% of the time. In 2009, he knew that hitters were going to adjust to him so he added a two-seam fastball to his repertoire. This is basically a fastball with horizontal movement. His fastball velocity in 2009 dropped to 92 miles an hour but he threw in this “two-seamer” at 89 miles per hour. Despite adding this pitch, he relied less on his regular four-seam fastball, using it only 55% of the time. But he increased his curveball percentage to 18% since his change-up velocity stayed at 83 miles per hour. The difference between the velocity of his fastball and his changeup was only nine miles per hour. A two-mile-per-hour drop doesn’t sound like much but with pitching, it can mean everything.
With pitchers, it’s all about deception. If a pitcher can only throw two pitches effectively, hitters are going to be looking for one or the other. When a pitcher can throw at least one more pitch effectively, maybe a curveball, hitters need to be more selective when identifying what’s coming out of the pitcher’s hand. It makes sense.
This season, Lincecum is relying on his fastball more than he has had to since 2008 (58.1%) and his slider more than he has had to in his career (17.9%) but neither of those pitches are considered effective pitches for him anymore, according to FanGraphs.
I made the predictions in the previous post based on how the Phillies were hitting (or not hitting) against the Marlins. The metrics I’m talking about here are descriptive, rather than predictive. Had I looked at Lincecum’s pitch type, pitch velocity and pitch percentage before last night’s game, I never would have guessed he’d surrender five earned runs in seven innings of work. Which proves once again: the only games that should be played on paper are Hangman and Tic-Tac-Toe.