San Francisco Giants

Tim Lincecum melts against Nationals, provides metaphor fodder for bloggers

As Alex Pavlovic points out, analysis of Tim Lincecum’s issues has been done before. Perhaps over done. Maybe even burnt to a crisp.

Sure, Lincecum melts in the heat. But a lot of great things do, like butter, chocolate, and polar ice caps. And, like the latter, there is no way of knowing the cause of the melting.

It could be a natural cycle, for all we know.

In previous years, Lincecum cooled off significantly during the warmer months. August of 2010 and June of 2011 are certainly examples of this. Much like then, it is reasonable for fans to expect Lincecum to reverse course and return to dominate form.

Bruce Bochy has given fans no reason to think otherwise. “We were all looking forward to seeing him after two good starts,” Bochy said. “He’s got to hopefully put this behind him.”

Phrases like “looking forward to” and “hopefully put this behind him” are all the assurance needed, right?

Of course, there could be the slight chance that Lincecum’s decline is man-made. That is, perhaps constant tweaking of an already fragile throwing motion has made this a permanent regression.

In a 2008 series for, Paul Nyman chronicled the demise of both Zito’s fastball and his career. Zito’s fastball (and perhaps innocence), Nyman argues, was lost to subtle changes in his mechanics. In Nyman’s view, any change to a pitcher’s mechanics can have drastic effect on the outcomes of their pitches.

“The body throwing a baseball is a ‘throwing system’ and is subject to the principles of complex dynamic systems,” Nyman wrote. “Complex dynamic systems exhibit chaotic behavior; simply stated, small changes in any aspect of the throwing process can have significant (positive or negative) effects on the final result.”

As one veteran MLB scout told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, “You can tell (Lincecum’s) just not right.”

Dave Righetti credits this not-right-ness to Lincecum’s offseason weight loss, telling Nightengale, “(Lincecum’s) whole body changed, and that weight can affect your mechanics as well.”

Of course, the worst response to a shift in mechanics is one that involves what Nyman calls “muscling the ball.”

Such a response, Nyman believes, “(leads to) a vicious cycle, because as he tries to release further out in front and get more on the ball, he becomes more linear, which promotes more muscling of the ball and loss of mechanical advantage. The more he tries to muscle the ball, the less control he has.”

This may be the route Lincecum has taken. Lincecum told Nightengale “(he’s) got to start utilizing (his) fastball.”

“It used to be, two runners on and no outs,” Lincecum said, “and it was like, ‘I’ll get a double play and strike out the next guy.’ That was the arrogance I had, knowing I could dig deep and get out of it.”

To believe Nyman is to believe the deeper Lincecum digs, the greater the odds that he permanently diminishes the fragile ecosystem that is his throwing motion.

To believe the alternative is to put your faith in time.

Either way, Lincecum is undeterred. “”Whether it’s mental or mechanic, I can deal with this,” Lincecum said. “I can persevere.”

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