Tim Lincecum’s First Start Of The 2013 MLB Season -Take the Win. Just Take It.
Not since his very first career start against the Philadelphia Phillies and Game 1 of the 2010 World Series has there been a more anticipated start for San Francisco Giants starter Tim Lincecum then last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Coming off his worse season as a professional pitcher, many eyes were glued to the television set wondering how he would look in his first start of the 2013 season.
Was it the best start of his career? By all means no. Was it even the best start of the three game series? Absolutely not. You can argue that besides his counterpart in last night’s game, Dodgers’ starter Josh Beckett, it was probably the worst start by a starting pitcher in the series. Was it the start that most Giants fans had hoped he would have? Maybe? Lincecum’s final line: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 7 BB, 4 SO, 0.00 ERA, with 46 balls and 45 strikes thrown, and 1 W. It wasn’t pretty, but for this Giants fan, I came away from the game somewhat pleased by this pitching line and Lincecum’s overall performance.
First off, I will acknowledge that Lincecum still has control issues, particularly with locating his fastball. His velocity is what it is now, sitting at 90-92 MPH (used to be 94-95 MPH when he first came into the league), with sometimes touching 93 MPH. He was all over the place with the fastball; rarely getting it over the plate for a first-pitch strike. He would either miss with the fastball very high up in the zone for an easy take, or it would tail off the right side of the plate (if you looking at the plate from the pitchers mound). His secondary pitches however: the curve ball, slider, and change-up, were pretty good and he was able to locate them well, getting a lot of swings and misses. I know pitchers normally like to lead with the fastball, but if he can make the adjustment to sometimes pitch backwards, using his secondary pitches to get first-pitch strikes, it would put him in better situations to go after batters to get strikeouts.
Secondly, leading up to the start of the season, Giants manager Bruce Bochy made it a point to state that Giants catcher, Buster Posey, would catch Lincecum more often this season, as Giants back-up catcher, Hector Sanchez, caught most of Lincecum’s games last season. Sanchez catching Lincecum last season was by design, as Lincecum is a hard pitcher to catch, with him throwing a lot of pitches in the dirt. With Posey coming back from his season-ending ankle injury, the Giants feared that with Posey catching Lincecum and having to work harder than normal behind the plate, it would put a lot of stress on his recovering ankle. Regardless, what happened in Lincecum’s first start this season, Sanchez is behind the plate catching him. Granted, Posey would have caught Lincecum if Giants first baseman, Brandon Belt, wasn’t out sick with the flu which caused Posey to play first; but nevertheless, this Giants fan was still disappointed. But the reason why I am making a bigger deal of Sanchez catching Lincecum is because Sanchez is a poor receiver and framer of pitches, and with a pitcher like Lincecum who has a lot of movement (whether by design or not) on his pitches, you need a catcher behind the plate who is a good receiver and framer of pitches in order to make the pitch an easy call strike for the umpire, sometimes even stealing a strike on close inside-outside, high-low pitches. In watching the game last night, I thought Sanchez cost Lincecum at least 3-5 first-pitch strike calls, which put Lincecum behind the 8-ball with a lot of batters. There were also other incidents were in the middle of counts I thought Sanchez cost Lincecum a strike by not framing properly. It may seem like a small issue, but I was able to ask ESPN’s MLB Insider, Keith Law, in his SportsNation chat session today about catchers receiving and framing pitches, and this was his reply (here’s the link to the chat – http://espn.go.com/sportsnation/chat/_/id/47576/mlb-insider-keith-law):
“Research seems to indicate it’s worth a lot, a few dozen runs a year for the best framers. I admit to personal incredulity at that, but then again, we’ve all seen the guys who stab and slap at the ball back there – and we know how awful umpires are at calling balls and strikes.”
So maybe instead of Lincecum walking 7 batters, he walks maybe 4. While 4 walks still may be a little high for a starter, it shows a lot better in the stat line with a W than 7.
Lastly, people are forgetting that Lincecum gave up 0 earned runs. The 2 runs Lincecum did give up, one came on an error made in the field, and the other was a passed ball by the catcher. When Lincecum pitched himself into jams, he was able to compose himself and pitch out of them, something we didn’t see last season. It was commonplace last season to see Lincecum give up a leadoff walk or hit and have that lead to a blow-up inning. So in that aspect, it was good to see Lincecum keep his composure and pitch out of jams, keeping the Giants in the ball game.
I’m not trying to make excuses for Lincecum. Again, I acknowledge that last night’s start wasn’t great and that Lincecum still has some work to do in order to be a reliable starter. But when you look at where he was last season, statistically being the worst starter in all of baseball, his performance last night was a small step in the right direction to regaining a parcel of his old, two-time CY Young winning self. For the Giants to again win the NL West and have any chance of possibly repeating as World Series Champions, they need Lincecum to be half of the starter he once was, which means him going out with confidence and competing, something Giants fans didn’t see last season. Giants pitching coach, Dave Righetti, said it best after the game when asked by reporters what he said to Lincecum after the game, “Take it (the win). Just take it.” I fully agree with that sentiment.