By the beginning of May, it can be safe to make some assumptions on early season performances throughout the realm of Major League Baseball. Such assumptions may be about a typical star player under performing (see Albert Pujols), or a underdog ballplayer who has slowly made a name for himself in the show (see Bryan LaHair). Yet, there is one assumption I am constantly seeing that feels unfair, and that player is Tim Lincecum.
As of May 7, Tim Lincecum has started six games, while posting a 2-2 record and a 5.68 era. At first glance, these numbers look horrendous, and many have been questioning if the San Francisco ace has lost his touch. Some look at his mechanics as the issue, others feel he looks “lost” on the mound. Yet, I can assure you that this pitcher is the same one we have been seeing since 2007, based on a very unique stat called xFIP.
Popularized by Fangraphs.com, xFIP is a stat on the same scale as era, and determines how good a pitcher is based on strikeouts, walks, home runs, and by pitching in a neutral dimensions park. In 2010 and 2011, Tim Lincecum pitched to era’s of 3.43 and 2.74, while acquiring xFIP’s of 3.09 and 3.36. In 2012, Lincecum has pitched himself to a 3.65 xFIP to go along with his 5.68 era, proving he has not changed as a pitcher.
A further stat that can be examined is Lincecum’s K/9 rate, which totals the number of strikeouts recorded every nine innings. In 2010 and 2011, Lincecum notched a 9.79 and a 9.12 K/9. In 2012, Lincecum has registered a 9.38 K/9 so far, further proving Lincecum is the same guy on the mound he always has been.
One final argument analysts may put up is the lack of velocity on Lincecum’s fastball, and which is currently averaging out at 89.8 mph, compared to 92.3 mph from last season, and his above average walk rate.
Yet, such analysts often forget Lincecum is a “power pitcher”, and power pitchers are notorious for having above average walk rates and slow fastballs to start the season. Although Lincecum has walked 4.83/9 in 2012, similar power pitchers such as Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Yu Darvish and Matt Moore have also possessed walk rates above four so far, all of which will slowly begin to fall sometime in the next few weeks. Furthermore, these pitcher’s fastballs typically register slower on the guns than usual in the early months, and will gradually rise as spring turns to summer.
If Lincecum’s velocity on the fastball has not increased by the time July rolls around, and is walk rate is still reasonably high, then there is reason for concern. Yet, as of right now, Lincecum is still the same pitcher he’s always been, and the sabermetric stats prove it.