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Tim Lincecum and the Goblet of True Blood

Were there enough pop culture cross references to catch your eye? Good, now let’s tear off a thick slice of double bubble, sit down on a raw pine plank, and talk some Tim Lincecum.

In the past month, dozens of baseball broadcasters have been struggling to explain why the two-time Cy Young award winner can no longer automatically be called an “ace”. Hundreds of sports writers are trying to figure out what happened to Tim Lincecum’s fast ball. Thousands of sports talk radio callers have offered loud theories to explain why Lincecum is 11-8 with a 3.72 ERA.

And one baseball player on the San Francisco Giants Baseball team is struggling with an elusive demon that has robbed him of his confidence and his ability to throw a baseball ninety-six miles per hour.

What, do I have some dramatic insightful theory, some magical answer, the truth behind the lies behind the truth? Well, actually, yes I do. But first, let’s take a clinical look at Tim Lincecum’s 2010 month by month and cumulative pitching records to date:

April 2010: 4-0  1.27        4-0  1.27

May 2010: 1-2  4.95         5-2  3.14

June 2010: 3-1  3.09       8-3  3.13

July 2010:  3-1  3.02       11-4  3.10

August 2010: 0-4  8.38  11-8  3.72

As Andy Williams put it so succinctly during his 1973 Christmas Special, do you see what I see? Despite legions of professional and amateur observers who claim that “Tim hasn’t been right ever since Spring Training”, as of July 30th he was 11-4 with a 3.10 ERA. Those are definitely the numbers of a two time Cy Young Award winning pitcher.

In fact, this is what the first four months of Lincecum’s season would have projected out to for the entire 2010 season compared to his 2009 record:

2010:  17-6  3.10  228 SO (proj.)
2009:  15-7  2.48  261 SO

Sure, the ERA is higher, but still outstanding; and, two more wins and one less loss compared to his 2009 Cy Young season. And, to date, Lincecum is 3rd in the National League with 173 strikeouts.

But then there’s the ugly 0-4 August, and we’re back to “what’s going on with Tim?”

During a June 16, 2010, inter-league game with the Baltimore Orioles, Miguel Tejada scorched a liner up the middle that hit off the back of Lincecum’s right shoulder, i.e., his pitching arm. He stayed in the game, and got the win, but something changed that day. Lincecum was not injured and did not miss a start, but in watching his subsequent starts I noticed he would increasingly flinch after throwing his pitches— at first only when a batter connected with a pitch, but more and more it happened whenever any batter took a swing, and now it’s virtually every time he throws a pitch.

I think it took a number of starts for the subtle physical and mental stresses of that line drive to begin to seriously erode Lincecum’s pitching mechanics, but it appears the cumulative effects all came together in the month of August.

If these observations are correct, how long will it last, and what can Lincecum do? I have no freaking idea— the professional coaches who know their craft, and the player who knows his mind and body, are the only ones who can work that out.

We know that Major League and Minor League careers have been derailed, and even ended, when a batter is hit by a pitch, or a pitcher is hit with a line drive. That’s why it takes courage to stand in a Major League batter’s box and stare down a 92 mile per hour fastball scorching to the plate in .45 seconds, or to have even less reaction time on the pitching mound when a 98 mile an hour line drive is headed directly back at you.

And those hard facts call for one further observation: if there was ever a player in the game who has the determination and courage to work through this and come out the other side as good as ever, it’s Giants ace Tim Lincecum.

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