Hector Sanchez

“Location Day”: a by-the-numbers look at Tim Lincecum’s second no-hitter

Hector Sanchez Tim Lincecum no-hitter SF Giants

“I didn’t feel like my stuff was great. I think more it was down. I was getting the ground balls that I needed and the weak pop flies, kind of living off that. I didn’t feel like it was a stuff day. I just felt like it was a location day.”

— Tim Lincecum after becoming the 29th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to pitch at least two no-hitters.

The location part of the equation was pretty easy to spot, as Lincecum walked just one batter — Chase Headley, who took a fastball that was a little above the belt with a full count. Lincecum mentioned the first pitch of that plate appearance as being the only one he thought could’ve been called a strike, and after going back and watching the game last night it’s hard to disagree. Lincecum threw a fastball down the middle at the knees, but Hector Sanchez dropped the pitch and the count went to 1-0.

Lincecum was on point, but after seeing the way he disposed of Chris Denorfia in the ninth with two nasty breaking pitches, I was a little hesitant to go along with his contention that his stuff wasn’t ridiculously awesome.

Compared to earlier in his career, his stuff will never be great again. But he’s effectively the same pitch as last year, at least from a stuff standpoint. So with the help of the folks at Brooks Baseball, I found a few ways to compare yesterday’s 113-pitch no-hitter with his 148-pitch no-hitter on July 13, 2013 in San Diego.

“I didn’t throw too many fastballs. I leaned on my secondary pitches.”

Pitch Usage

Fourseam FB

  • 2013: 30
  • 2014: 15

Sinker

  • 2013: 30
  • 2014: 25

Slider

  • 2013: 36
  • 2014: 24

Curveball

  • 2013: 19
  • 2014: 10

Splitter

  • 2013: 29
  • 2014: 38

Lincecum used his slider, curveball and splitter 56.8% of the time in the first no-hitter, and 63.7% of the time yesterday.

Velocity

Fourseam FB

  • 2013: 90.86
  • 2014: 90.71

Sinker

  • 2013: 90.90
  • 2014: 90.17

Slider

  • 2013: 81.77
  • 2014: 80.53

Curveball

  • 2013: 75.82
  • 2014: 74.79

Splitter

  • 2013: 83.68
  • 2014: 82.65

The differences weren’t large, but Lincecum’s average velocity was lower on each of his pitches yesterday compared to the numbers from 7/13/13.

Horizontal Movement

Fourseam FB

  • 2013: 1.37
  • 2014: 1.65

Sinker

  • 2013: -3.87
  • 2014: -3.89

Slider

  • 2013: 2.47
  • 2014: 2.66

Curveball

  • 2013: 5.21
  • 2014: 5.82

Splitter

  • 2013: -2.44
  • 2014: -0.05

Vertical Movement

Fourseam FB

  • 2013: 8.22
  • 2014: 9.27

Sinker

  • 2013: 8.95
  • 2014: 8.70

Slider

  • 2013: -1.60
  • 2014: -4.90

Curveball

  • 2013: -8.82
  • 2014: -7.94

Splitter

  • 2013: 3.94
  • 2014: 2.76

Hard to draw anything conclusive from this data, other than *maybe* his slider had a little more bite yesterday. Let’s move on.

“I’ve always been that guy that’s going to go for the strikeout. Today I just tried to be a little more efficient and take what they were going to give me and they were going to give me a lot more ground balls and pop flies.”

Whiff %

Fourseam FB

  • 2013: 10.00
  • 2014: 26.67

Sinker

  • 2013: 16.67
  • 2014: 0.00

Slider

  • 2013: 25.00
  • 2014: 20.83

Curveball

  • 2013: 21.05
  • 2014: 0.00

Splitter

  • 2013: 27.59
  • 2014: 13.16

Lincecum’s pitches drew 29 swing-throughs in the first no-hitter, and just 14 yesterday. This isn’t surprising, since he struck out 13 batters in the no-hitter at Petco and just six in yesterday’s historic performance at AT&T.

In the Zone/Out of the Zone

  • 2013: 31.25%/68.75%
  • 2014: 40.18%/59.82%

But this doesn’t tell the whole story either. Lincecum has had plenty of games over the last year where a higher percentage pitches ended up in the strike zone than 40.18%. For example, 46.59% of his pitches found the zone on May 7, 2014 in Pittsburgh, when Lincecum allowed eight hits and four earned runs in four innings. In his first start of the season, Lincecum (who spent the entire Spring trying to avoid walking guys altogether) threw 48.45% of his pitches into the “zone,” and he gave up four earned runs and eight hits (including two homers) in Arizona.

It’s not necessarily about throwing strikes, but avoiding bad counts and pitches that catch too much of the plate. Lincecum was able to get the Padres to hit a lot of weak balls at infielders and outfielders, which resulted in a lot of relatively easy defensive chances.

The key — and I haven’t found a statistic that shows this, although it probably exists — is viewing the game from the angle provided by the center field camera. How much does Hector Sanchez’s glove move on each pitch? Not all that much in most cases. For a look at how Lincecum enjoyed the fruits of a true (and rare) “location game,” I recommend you watch the game in its entirety and pay close attention to Sanchez’s glove. Then again, I’d recommend you watch the game regardless, because it was yet another gem from a pitcher who many people thought had little to no jewelry left in that right arm.

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