The Freak Finds a New Way to Win

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Allow “The Freak” to re-introduce himself to you. You do remember him, right?

Coming off three straight seasons with an ERA over 4.00, San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum has enjoyed newfound success through ten starts in 2015.

The 10th overall pick of the Giants in the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of Washington, Lincecum was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game from 2008 to 2011. He was selected to the National League All-Star team in each of those 4 seasons and also took home the National League Cy Young Award in both 2008 and 2009.

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Overall during this stretch, Lincecum owned a tremendous 2.81 ERA while going 62-36 across 131 starts. He averaged more than 15 wins a season, struck out 977 batters in 881.2 innings, and averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings. If this wasn’t enough, Lincecum also led the National League in punchouts in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In his first postseason action in 2010, Lincecum went 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in 37 innings pitched, striking out 43. In the NLCS against the Phillies, Lincecum appeared in 3 games, starting 2 of those. He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the series, tossing 7 innings of 3-run ball, while fanning 8 Phils batters.

Despite allowing just 2 runs over 7 innings in Game 5, Lincecum took the loss in a 4-2 Phillies win. He would rebound quickly to come out of the bullpen and get a key out for Giants manager Bruce Bochy in the series-clinching Game 6.

Apr 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) in the dugout during the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Facing the Texas Rangers in the 2010 World Series, Lincecum won both the first and last game of the Fall Classic for the Giants, giving the franchise their first championship since 1954.

In the 2011 season, however, Lincecum suddenly was unable to resemble the ace that previously been so unhittable. The righthander labored his way through 33 starts that year, going 10-15 with an astronomical 5.18 ERA. His 15 losses led the National League. Walks became an issue, as he walked 4.4 batters per nine innings pitched. Additionally, Lincecum lost his ability to overpower hitters with his fastball. Hovering in the mid-to-upper 90s early in his career,

Walks became an issue for the diminutive righthander, as he walked 4.4 batters per nine innings pitched. Additionally, Lincecum lost his ability to overpower hitters with his fastball. Hovering in the mid-to-upper 90s early in his career, his fastball velocity dropped almost four miles per hour by 2012.

Though the Giants made the postseason in 2012, Lincecum was moved into the bullpen for the start of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds. Upon earning the victory in 4.1 stellar innings of relief in Game 4 of that series, Lincecum was rewarded with a Game 4 start in the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

I kind of brought it back to how I was as a kid, when my dad was teaching me in the first place. It was nice to get back to that kind of perspective and challenge myself again in that way” ~ Lincecum, on working with his father

The Freak was unable to take advantage of the opportunity, however, taking the loss after surrendering 4 runs on 6 hits in only 4.2 innings of work. Lincecum would return to the pen once again after that start, and pitched 4.2 scoreless innings in relief in two World Series game appearances against the Detroit Tigers, as the Giants won their 2nd championship in 3 years.

Unfortunately for Lincecum, a poor 2012 was a sign of things to come for the Bellevue, Washington native. Losing his ability to blow hitters away, Lincecum struggled to deal with the loss of his best stuff. He went a combined 22-23 and owned a mediocre 4.53 ERA over his 2013 and 2014 seasons, and also saw his strikeouts per nine decrease to 7.7. Even tossing the 2nd no-hitter of his career wasn’t enough to save him from being moved to the bullpen permanently by the end of 2014.

Searching for answers and some confidence-boosting, Lincecum turned to the guy who had helped him all his life to get him where he is today—his father.

In an interview with ESPN’s Christina Kahrl, Lincecum discussed his new attitude coming into 2015, and revealed how his father helped get rid of any doubts he may have had about himself and his ability.

I just changed my mindset to be more confident,” Lincecum said. “I kind of brought it back to how I was as a kid, when my dad was teaching me in the first place. It was nice to get back to that kind of perspective and challenge myself again in that way. Being able to work with my dad, it kind of negated any doubt I had. Him giving me the affirmation kind of helped me gain confidence, even just working off a mound inside of a warehouse.

Having to fight for a rotation spot, Lincecum arrived in 2015 spring training entering the final year of a 2-year, $35 million extension signed in 2012. Even with some shaky outings and overall unimpressive stats in Cactus League play, Lincecum was one of the guys the Giants picked to pitch again in their rotation every fifth day.

In his first start of the season, Lincecum threw a scoreless 7 innings against the Colorado Rockies, allowing just 4 hits. Following a couple of unexceptional April starts, Lincecum rebounded to begin May with 14 straight scoreless innings, giving up 6 hits over his first two starts in the month. Five of his 10 starts this season have been Quality Starts, and overall, Lincecum is 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA.

Much of his improvement in 2015 has been Lincecum’s effective use of his secondary pitches, which is inducing weak contact. Without the ability to rely on his fastball to blow hitters away (it now sits in the high 80s), Lincecum has had to reinvent the way he pitches.

As he stated to ESPN: “I have junk that I can throw at them, so that kind of helps me out and helps me hide my fastball in there,” Lincecum said. “I’ve just been getting the results, kind of surprising results, especially since my stuff hasn’t been as good as I thought it was. But I’m still getting the kind of [poor] contact that I want to see and getting strikeouts when I need them, which lets me know that I can strike out guys in pressure situations and make good pitches in pressure situations.”

Unfortunately, walks are still a problem for him. He’s allowed 26 free passes in 57 innings pitched this season. Lincecum will pitch the first game of the series against the Phillies on Friday night coming off two lackluster starts in which he has pitched no more than five innings and given up 4 runs in each of them.

The Giants’ righthander should bounce back in Philadelphia, as he has owned the Phillies throughout his career. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz are a combined 22 for 96 (.229) off of Lincecum with 29 strikeouts. Ben Revere has found the most success off Lincecum, slapping 5 hits in 9 at-bats against him, while much of the rest of the Phillies lineup will be facing Lincecum for their first time.

At 30 years old, Lincecum seems to be finding a way to remain relevant in a game that can so quickly kick you out once you lose some ability. While he’ll never be “The Freak” that was feared for so long by lineups around major league baseball, he has found a new way to once again become a winner.

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