Tim Lincecum’s 100 mph Mechanics: Then and Now

Tim Lincecum is struggling right now to get back to the form that has won him two Cy Young awards faster than any MLB pitcher in history. The slightly built Lincecum comes in at a mere 5’10” and 165 pounds but has defied the odds as a front of the rotation starter, which he was until this year. Now, Matt Cain has taken over that slot.

Tim Lincecum’s Decreasing Velocity

His once 100 mph or upper 90s pitching velocity is now more in the low 90s and has been as low as the upper 80s. That should be a red flag that something has changed. Whether it’s his pitching mechanics or his overall practice routine,  further investigation is needed to find the cause. It is a matter of looking at all the evidence in a scientific way.

Amazingly, based on his current performance, he may be considered the worst performing starting pitcher in history. And nobody saw this coming, certainly not the Giants, Tim Lincecum himself or his father Chris, who is considered his real pitching coach and, of course, his biggest fan.

When his velocity first started to drop even his father, Chris, thought he just needed more long toss. But based on the most current research, that will have little to no benefit for improving his velocity. It’s a good idea to first look at changes in mechanics in order to see what has changed as well as examining what other factors have changed.

The question is – what happened? Once we find that answer we must find a solution. That’s the only way we’ll be able to find out how to get the real Tim Lincecum back, who is in his final year of a two-year $40 million contract.

The Reason Behind the Slower Velocity

Has his excessive trunk lean caught up with him? Has his arched spine created movement problems with his scapula, which has affected how his shoulder moves which affects the positioning of his throwing arm? Is that why his control is so poor compared to previous years?

In this video I went back to the first time I saw Tim Lincecum pitch live at a AAA Spring Training game just 20 minutes from my house here is Scottsdale, AZ. I was given a tip by Joe Zito, Barry’s father, who had been told by Chris Lincecum, Tim’s father, that he would start the next AAA game at 10 am. I would not miss that.

While Tim was warming up, I got into place with my trusty video camera. I was standing on a chain link fence, holding on to tree branch with my left hand while holding the camera in my right hand as I recorded him from the third base angle.

That was in late March of 2007. In Tim’s first game in April, I observed him hitting 100 mph with two pitches in a row.

The video on the right is Tim during Spring training. The video on the left is Tim during a game in 2011. Watch and notice the differences. I did not have a side angle from 2012 to compare for this article. If you have one please email me and I will post it as well.

When doing Video Analysis you must notice differences in timing. If you do not understand the common faults that reduce velocity and do not use a video camera your chances of improving mechanics or velocity are left to hit or miss.

Video analysis is by far the most important tool for improving a pitchers velocity. While most coaches and instructors blindly advise improving strength, a lack of strength is rarely the most important factor for improving velocity. Pitching mechanics, on the other hand, or skills improvement, are by far the most important aspect of velocity improvement, especially for growing and developing pitchers.

What has changed from one period to the next? Are there any slow movements and hesitations? Any lateral changes?

I will be doing a similar back angle comparing him when he first started to right now. You will see some dramatic differences.

All it takes is a minor change to create a big variation. If you are not videotaping from three angles and assessing mechanics then you have little accurate feedback about performance improvement.

Watching pitchers using the naked eye is a 20th century method. This is the 21st century, the age of technology.

It’s time to make videotaping a regular part of pitching practice if you are really interested in accurate feedback. It seems most coaches and instructors want to stay in the 20th century because very few bother to videotape their pitchers.

Why?  Most simply lack the knowledge of mechanics. Some even catch for their students which should be a big red flag if you expect valuable instruction. Catching for their students means they can’t see them pitch from every angle so they simply cannot see what’s going wrong with their pitching mechanics.

And that is bad news for pitchers and parents who are paying for instruction but instead are just paying for a bullpen session with little chance of improvement.