Devising New Ways to Measure Greatness

San Francisco Giant pitcher Tim Lincecum’s fourth start of the 2010 season did not go well.

lincecum2Throughout the Friday April 23, 2010 home game against the tough St. Louis Cardinals, Lincecum struggled to locate two of his four pitches, the fast ball and curve ball. He walked three batters (he previously walked a total of three hitters in the 20 innings of his first three starts). His ERA went from 0.90 to 1.00 because he allowed an earned run. He threw 120 pitches in 7 innings— the average number of pitches in his first three starts was 104 pitches. Somehow, Lincecum managed to match his 2010 strikeouts per game average with eight knock-outs.

Oh, and he won the game. Lincecum is now 4-0 with a 0.93 WHIP.

On the NBC Bay Area post game show after the Giants 4-1 victory, Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow provided extraordinary insight into the dynamics of how a great pitcher manages a game when he doesn’t have his best stuff. Krukow pointed out that Lincecum’s curve and fastball were out of sync and not working for him; but the very fact these pitches were not locating properly still oddly set up his change-up and slider and made them effective against Cardinal hitters. That’s a fascinating observation, and it takes our understanding of just how smart and talented Lincecum is to a kind of fourth dimension of analysis that only applies to the elite pitchers in the game.

Watching Lincecum pitch against St. Louis last night was like observing a single-minded scientist tinkering away in the lab. Lincecum kept working to make his pitches, and he kept trying to find the point of release and rhythm that would locate them across the plate; but the fast ball and curve refused to cooperate right up until he finished seven innings of six hit ball. And got the win.

This game was a master class on how to pitch great when you’re not throwing great.
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Additional kudos: reliever Sergio Romo (1 inning, no runs, no walks, 1 strike out— Albert Pujols swinging), and closer Brian Wilson (1 inning, no runs, no walks, 3 strike-outs). Although the Giants beat their average runs scored per game during the previous four games (1.21) by scoring two earned runs (and 4 total runs) last night, the team’s hitting crisis continues.

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