There are two obvious themes with the major of Tim Lincecum's starts this year. One, they've been terrible. And two, they've featured one really bad inning that ended up wrecking Lincecum's day.
"He's having a hard time of staying out of a big inning," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, per Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com.
Early in the season, these explosive innings were early in the game but lately they've been in the middle. Lincecum doesn't know why, but he has noticed the location change.
"It used to be the first; now it's the fourth or fifth," Lincecum said.
As to the why, well, I've got no answers either. But I will tell you this: Take away that big inning each game and Tim Lincecum is pitching pretty, pretty well this season. How do I know this? Well, I spent my morning taking away the big inning and reworking Lincecum's stat line for the season.
The results are pretty eye-opening and also pretty unscientific. You can't take away the bad inning of a pitcher's start any more than you can delete the worst month of the season for a team and hand them a division title.
But I think the bad inning thing does represent something promising for Lincecum and Giants fans: this isn't a physical/injury-related issue. And it's not a lack of stuff either. It's simply a mental block that's preventing Lincecum from pitching like he has in the past. More on that in a minute. First, let's look at the stats.
Here's Lincecum's line on the season:
47.2 IP / 51 HA / 32 ER / 25 BBI / 53 K / 6.04 ERA / 1.59 WHIP
Yikes. And here's the line from Lincecum's worst inning of each game, which basically prorates out to one start (except for one game when he didn't make it out of the inning).
8.1 IP / 25 HA / 24 ER / 13 BBI / 8 K / 26.67 ERA / 4.61 WHIP
OK, again, this is stripping out the worst inning of each of Lincecum's starts and mashing them into one really, really, really terrible near complete game. Or something. I'm sure if you pulled out every pitcher's worst inning, it would look pretty awful. But over half of Lincecum's walks, hits and 75 percent of his earned runs allowed came in the "one bad inning." So what do his stats look like without that inning?
39.1 IP / 26 HA / 8 ER / 12 BBI / 45 K / 1.84 ERA / 0.97 WHIP
Ummmm ... yeah. So look, this isn't "real" because Lincecum has to pitch those innings. And that's exactly why his performance is so confusing. And it's also exactly why I think it's mental. Allow me to explain (or don't, I'm going to anyway).
If you've ever played golf, you know that the moments of consistency are often fleeting. And if you start to lose confidence in your swing, you can come out cold as hell. And if you start to hit the ball well and begin to think "I'm hitting the ball well," you're probably going to end up losing something in your mechanics by getting sloppy. And eventually it all becomes one gigantic mental clusterbomb that results in you chipping from the green of another hole and possibly endangering pedestrians.
The results of a mental breakdown are a lot less disastrous for a scratch golfer, though, and that's the equivalent of what Lincecum is on the baseball diamond. If you need more proof of this, how about the fact that Lincecum skipped a preseason start so he didn't "get stupid things going on in [his] head."
Maybe we should've read more into that; the Tim Lincecum who struck out 220 batters for four consecutive seasons didn't think like that. And if doubt started to creep in, he figured out a way to correct it. It's certainly not too late for Lincecum to do that, either.
Maybe he just needs to pitch without caring. But he needs to make sure when he finds himself in the middle of a good start to make sure he cares even less. Otherwise he might find himself continually stung by that one big inning.