In an exclusive with CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly, Giants starter Tim Lincecum says that although he is presently committed to starting so long as his team needs him — and with an injured Ryan Vogelsong and struggling Matt Cain, they do — he is open to converting fully as a reliever in the future. Lincecum currently has a 5.12 ERA in 11 starts, continuing the struggles that led to a 5.18 ERA over 33 starts last year. The Giants used him out of the bullpen in five of his six post-season appearances, however, and the right-hander allowed one run in 13 innings.
Lincecum spoke to the differences between starting and relieving:
“Out of the bullpen, your focus is different,” Lincecum said. “You’re not thinking about lasting. It’s, `Go until they tell you to stop.’ When you’re starting, when you see your pitch count go up in a bad inning, that can be at the forefront of your brain. You know it’s going to (limit how deep you can go). So I guess you could say it’s a lack of pressing, when you’re relieving.”
Lincecum is eligible for free agency after the season. Considering his recent adversity as a starter, you have to imagine potential suitors are viewing him more as a reliever than as a starter if they are even considering signing him at all.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.