Tim Lincecum’s velocity—a lost cause?

Tim Lincecum‘s velocity has been dropping year after year—surprising no one. Since Lincecum’s results have been less than stellar—despite a very reasonable 3.95 FIP and a 3.76 xFIP—people are seeking to blame his woes on his loss of velocity, though his peripherals seem to be just fine.

Dave Cameron suggests that it’s not just bad luck, though—that maybe his command breaks down. DrBGiantsfan commented on that FanGraphs post, saying:

The two first inning dingers notwithstanding, 90 percent of Timmy’s problems seem to have come when he has to work out of the stretch which means that the runs he allows come in bunches and there is a higher percentage of his runners that score all of which would tend to make his FIP look better than his ERA, yet, the ERA is a far more accurate measure of how he has pitched and the results are completely explainable based on observable phenomena on the field.

The statistics definitely bear this out; Lincecum pitches far worse with runners on base than he does out of the windup, and they’ve been pervasive all year, not just a small blip during the beginning of the season when he was sporting a 6+ ERA. Looking into his mechanics from the stretch/windup is a possible blog post in the future, but today we’ll look primarily at the drop in velocity and some physiological reasons why his command (but not necessarily control) has been poor.

Swimming and weight loss

Tim Lincecum reportedly lost 30+ pounds in the 2011-2012 offseason and used a counter-current swimming pool to slim down, along with a tight diet. Sounds good, right? Well, not really. As noted baseball trainer Eric Cressey (and many others) have pointed out, increased bodyweight is positively correlated with increased fastball velocity. Lean body mass has a strong positive impact on pitching velocity, as well as durability.

Swimming is mostly an aerobic activity, and combined with a caloric deficient diet, leads to catabolism (loss of muscle mass). Additionally, swimming in a pool isn’t exactly the most friendly activity for pitchers – depending on the stroke used, the athlete in the pool could be creating laxity in the anterior portion of the shoulder, which can reduce stability in the area. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to connect the dots; a loss of stability in the shoulder can lead to decreased velocity and command of the baseball when release point tolerances are very tight.

Pitching mechanics—a comparison

Lincecum’s before/after mechanics are fairly interesting—here’s a comparison between 2009 (95 MPH) and 2012 (90 MPH) that’s somewhat synchronized (the joys of working with broadcast-quality video):

tim lincecum mechanics

The first thing I noticed (besides the reduced velocity) was the increased trunk tilt at/near ball release from 2009 to 2012:



A cursory look into the PITCHf/x data tends to show a higher release point in 2012:

(right-click and open in new browser if image is not animating properly)

Lincecum has significantly more trunk tilt at/near ball release today compared to the past. Additionally, if you watch the followthrough phase of the delivery, you notice a significant amount of “falling off” the mound in 2012 compared to 2009. “Falling off” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as watching many of the hardest throwers in baseball will show, this is often just the aftereffect of very fast rotational momentum. That being said, efficient mechanics require a tight marriage between linear translation to the plate and rotational momentum around the spine—perhaps one of the best examples of such was pre-injury Jake Peavy:

(he had some issues with complete followthrough, as evidenced by the arm recoil, but his coupling of linear/rotational momentum to produce velocity is elite)

My hypothesis is that Lincecum is focusing a lot on rotational momentum around the upper trunk and trying to leverage the muscles in the back (latissimus dorsi, mainly) to produce velocity, but has lost his “line to the plate.” Movement is being wasted and improperly sequenced, possibly as a result of reduced lean body mass, loss of stability in the shoulder, or just altered mechanics for whatever reason.

How can he fix it?

Lincecum could kill two birds with one stone by using high-speed video to tape his delivery from the windup and the stretch to detect differences that might be causing issues with command, and he’d be able to get a close look at his overall mechanics to see if he can increase his velocity by getting back to what he was doing at the University of Washington and as a rookie with the Giants. If he doesn’t happen to have access to high-speed cameras (all player development departments should have these, in my opinion), I happen to run a lab in Seattle with access to five cameras—and Tim lives pretty close in the off-season! (You’re welcome to stop by my facility any time this off-season, Tim.)

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  1. Seth said...

    Really fascinated by these biomechanic breakdowns. Would love to learn more about general biomechanics, but have absolutely no background. Any recommendations for books etc that would be a good starting point? Thanks for the articles!!

  2. Scott said...

    He could always throw from the stretch even with runners on 1st.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

    The observation on the bunching of runs reminds me of a classic Greg Maddux quote – I think he said at one point that he did all (or most of) his work between games from the stretch because that was when he would need to be at his best (or something to that effect, I’m paraphrasing).

  3. Kyle Boddy said...


    There aren’t any good comprehensive books, IMO. I recommend checking out this list of research studies to begin with:


    Thanks for the comments!


    I assume you mean throw from the stretch even with no runners on first, right? He did this for a short period of time in 2011, I believe, though I don’t recall specifically when or why.

    That’s a good quote. Makes a lot of sense. Personally, I throw from the stretch 100% of the time now. Not that I pitch anything resembling “professional baseball.” smile

  4. Jameson said...

    To me, the whole idea of pitching from both the windup and stretch makes me completely confused, ESPECIALLY if the pitcher in question slows down his delivery significantly from the windup (think Beckett, Josh).  That makes two vastly distinct speeds of movement, different timings, different positions, all of which the pitcher has to memorize and perfect to his best ability if he wants to be successful with anything but 100MPH stuff out of the bullpen. 

    Contrast a Josh Beckett windup with one like that of Roy Halladay, which in deilvery speed and mechanics is identical to his stretch; there is only a quick arm tuck and swivel at the beginning to get him from the start position to leg kick.  The majority of movement in both deliveries are shared, simple, and effective, and is one of a handful of windups that I would say are not potentially detrimental to a pitcher’s consistency.

    Basic logic dictates that a pitcher should make it easier on himself and just stick to the stretch or use a very simple windup.  If the pitcher just sucks that badly at delivering the ball quickly and therefore he resorts to slowing everything way down in the windup, then maybe he should be looking at an alternative career, because having runners on base is impossible to avoid.

  5. the game said...

    The naysayers have been saying for years that he couldn’t last.  Seems like they were right.  The nickname was due to his apparent defying of the odds & gods, well that can’t last forever.

  6. CraigM said...

    I’m a Giants fan, so I’ve seen most of Lincecum’s starts starting in 2009. I’m at a loss to explain his bad year. There are times that he seems dominant, throwing unhittable pitches, and then he’ll make one mistake out over the plate, and the batters seem to always crush those pitches. Plus he’s walked way too many batters. On the plus side, he does strike out a lot of batters, and his results since the Allstar game have been OK.

  7. BB Watcher said...

    I think the biggest reason for the velocity decrease (and the reason he’s now “falling” off the mound to his glove side) is that he’s striding closed, or to his arm side. Check the video – his new driveline is non-linear which creates an inefficient path to release by creating side-to-side rotational energy.

  8. John C said...

    I think it’s simply of matter of what happens when you ask a guy as small as Lincecum to throw the heck out of the ball for 200-plus innings year after year. Sooner or later, he’s going to start to burn out.

    There was a kid just like Lincecum who came out of college about 20 years ago, pretty much the same size and ridiculous fastball, Billy Wagner. And he pitched at a near-Hall of Fame level until he was 39 because his teams had the good sense not to ask him to pitch 200 innings a year.

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