Tim Lincecum’s first three starts of the season were all bad in different ways.
- He gave up two runs (zero earned) over five innings in his first start at Dodger Stadium, which doesn’t seem so bad, but he also walked seven.
- In his second start, at home against the Colorado Rockies, he only gave up four hits in six innings. That sounds pretty good, but also walked four more and gave up six earned runs.
- His third start came in Chicago, where he only walked one batter. Pretty good, especially for Lincecum, but he also gave up two home runs and only lasted five innings.
The San Francisco Giants won all three of those games, but it was clear that Lincecum was ineffective. Hector Sanchez caught Lincecum each time to start the year, but on April 20 (of all days, juvenile smirk) Lincecum threw to a different catcher — Buster Posey. This wasn’t anything new, as Posey had caught Lincecum times prior to the 2013 season, not including the playoffs. But as Wendy Thurm wrote on April 9 (the day of Lincecum’s second start), it appeared Lincecum was more comfortable throwing to Sanchez and they’d continue as regular battery mates for most of the season.
Since then, Lincecum hasn’t quite pitched like the Cy Young winner he once was. But he has certainly been better.
This is not the largest of sample sizes, but another thing to note is Lincecum’s BAbip (batting average on balls put in play) is a fairly unlucky .349 with Posey catching, compared to a particularly fortuitous .233 with Sanchez behind the plate. And gosh, look at that sparkly SO/BB ratio on top compared to the number below.
Walks and Strikeouts
Wendy made the point that Lincecum was doing himself a disservice if he truly preferred Sanchez over Posey. And so far this season, the numbers say that if he wants to make some real money after this season, sticking with Posey is the prudent move.
Last year, the differences were minor. In 85 2/3 IP, Lincecum had a SO/BB of 2.24 when throwing to Posey. Sanchez caught Lincecum for 88 2/3 innings, with a SO/BB of 1.91. In 2011, Lincecum’s SO/BB was 3.83 with Posey catching, almost twice as high as Lincecum’s ratio with Chris Stewart or Eli Whiteside. In 2010 it was the same thing — 3.57 SO/BB with Posey, 2.74 with Bengie Molina, 2.67 with Whiteside. Wendy included those numbers in table form here.
So for all the chatter about Lincecum needing a cheerleader behind the dish, or Barry Zito questioning Posey’s pitch calls and/or sequences, Posey clearly has a different, more aggressive plan when working with Lincecum.
Lincecum has given up more home runs in the last couple seasons than he did previously, but that has never been his main problem. His weaknesses come in the form of walks allowed and an inability to hold baserunners. Posey knows that the way to keep Lincecum’s stat lines healthy is to keep hitters from drawing free passes (this also helps Posey in another way, his CS%). Lincecum has walked 3.19 batters per nine innings in his career with Posey catching (very close to his 3.17 ratio with Molina), and 4.67 BB/9 with Sanchez.
Last night, after I got back from Oracle Arena at 2 am and still couldn’t sleep, I turned on Lincecum’s start on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves. I hadn’t gotten a chance to watch it because I was covering Game 4 at Oracle that afternoon, and the Bay Area sports scene has been wall-to-wall insane for the past few weeks (excuses for not watching sports — what happens when local teams keep winning). Lincecum didn’t look all that sharp in the first inning, missing most of the targets Posey set. But he got out of it and looked like a brand new pitcher in the second. That’s when the pair almost seemed to be toying with the Braves at times, particularly in the middle of the game.
One of the presumed reasons why Sanchez caught Lincecum so often over the last season-plus was to keep Posey from taking too much abuse from the pitcher who led baseball in wild pitches last year. In the fourth and fifth innings, Lincecum struck out Freddie Freeman, B.J. Upton, Juan Francisco and Kris Medlen — all on changeups, all swinging, and every strikeout pitch besides the one to Medlen was blocked by Posey.
Strikeouts are about more than strike three, so it’s difficult to determine why Lincecum seems to get there more slightly more often with Posey than most others. Pitch-framing could be a part of it, but Posey might call a different game than Sanchez, one that sets up hitters differently. Lincecum may find it easier to shake off Sanchez, but that’s just another assumption. Whatever the reason, since Lincecum is in a pivotal time in his career it would behoove him to keep this partnership with Posey going.
The next possible chance for Lincecum and Posey to work together (unless Bruce Bochy feels like having Guillermo Quiroz catch Lincecum for the first time)? Tomorrow evening at 5 pm, which just so happens to be the night of BASG Bingo at Northstar Cafe! Not only will we be giving away this prize …
… and many more bobbleheads and assorted Giants toys and t-shirts, Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria is also delivering pizzas during the middle of the game and donating some prizes. Do you have an ear for Kruk & Kuipisms? Let that amazing skill put a gnome in your pocket when you call out Bingo. We’ll also be raffling off prizes — all proceeds going to Jr. Giants. So come on down at 4:30 and meet us there!