Here is a link to my Sunday column about Tim Lincecum, not about the Super Bowl. The full text appears below:
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s Giants Media Day. You want to know about Tim Lincecum, re-signed for two years at $35 million, a big gamble. Or maybe not.
You don’t go to Lincecum right away. You go to pitching coach Dave Righetti sitting alone at a table. You ask why Lincecum can be a contributor this year. Tim Lincecum hasn’t exactly been Tim Lincecum the past two seasons. Righetti starts talking, a dramatic monologue straight from the heart.
“As you get older, you expand your mind,” Righetti says. “Tim was closed-minded. All he knew was getting people out and embarrassing people and being a star. Can’t blame him. He was a very dominant pitcher. He should have won 20 more games probably. Easily. When tough times hit, people kept asking me, ‘Where’s the Timmy of old?’ I said, ‘That’s dangerous. You don’t do that. You can never get better if you’re trying to be like you were back then. You’ve got to see where you are right now.’
“That’s the only thing we’re going to go by. He can do it. Lots of right-handers can’t. Lefties can pull it off. They can (Frank) Tanana it — go from one style of pitching to the other. I don’t know why. It’s never been explained. Very tough for right-handers to change speeds, to go from being power pitchers. You can count them on one hand.
“But he’s capable of doing it. He’s that good an athlete. When it got away from him was when he couldn’t control it (his pitches). We all saw it. It was right before everybody’s eyes. He couldn’t get the ball where he wanted. It’s a lot easier for hitters to lay off everything. It’s the classic pitching problem.
“He wanted to do something about it. He started studying. He always went over the hitters before the game, but nothing like this. He sat down and ingrained it in his head. It’s not easy to do that in front of people watching you and asking, ‘Why can’t you be like ’08?’ You shouldn’t have to live like that. But that’s the cross you bear for being damn good at one point.
“You’d like everybody to have a perfect career. If you look at Tom Seaver’s baseball card, the back of his card, Jim Palmer’s, Ferguson Jenkins’, they had imperfect seasons. They had to change their style.
“He knew swings, always knew that. He knew how to change speeds from the beginning. Once he got a power changeup, that made everything else better. His fastball was always good because it either ran away from a lefty or it was climbing in on a righty. But when you’re only at 90 (mph) that same pitch doesn’t have the same effect. It’s, in a way, nice to hit.
“Where he is now is where you’re going to end up. Matt Cain went through it. Big time. Timmy actually helped Cain. People forgot about Cain’s struggles. People were talking about Timmy. Very rarely do guys make that transition. I’m talking about strikeout guys. I’m talking about 230 to 250 strikeouts. It’s really tough to go from one to the other. He knows he can do it. This guy could have signed anywhere he wanted. He’s not running. He signed right back here.”
Time to summarize. Lincecum is making the inevitable transition from power pitcher — from the Freak — to finesse pitcher. To being a pitcher. He has learned to study batters. Didn’t do it before. Just threw the ball. “I throw it. You miss it.” Used to think he could blow batters away like breathing. Then he lost his power and had to think — mind over batter.
Now, move over to Lincecum doing interviews. He is in a luxury suite, the green green field just out the window. He talks about learning the art of pitching, talks from the heart.
“When I study, it’s looking what right-handers would do with that lineup. I try to exploit the percentages. The computer breaks down a lot of the numbers for us. The scouting report isn’t literally saying, ‘This guy can’t hit curveballs.’ You’ve got to go look at the numbers. What he’s hitting against curveballs inside. What he’s doing against fastballs on 0-2 counts up in the zone. What pitches he’s taking. Those are the fine points I’m going to try and get better at. I never did it with the exception of last year.”
Those are shocking statements. He didn’t study scouting reports until last season. And he didn’t do it at the beginning of the season. Did it sometime near the middle. It’s like taking a test on “King Lear” without reading the play.
“I felt like my stuff gave me the advantage,” he says. “You come up as a kid and you throw hard and you think, ‘No one can hit me.’ It’s cockiness, and that cockiness starts to fade and you have to turn that cockiness into confidence. And what builds confidence is putting in the time. It gives you those mental edges as opposed to question marks. I had a lot more question marks the past couple of years than answers.
“Last year, (I was) able to study hitters, able to break them down with Chad (Gaudin), who taught me how to do it. I never really understood how to use the computer. Without him, I’d be looking at the computer like, ‘What am I doing?’ You never want to buy into the fact that this is what it takes to get by.
“Once I started studying hitters, that gave me a confidence I didn’t have. I remember one game against Toronto. I gave up a first-inning homer to (Edwin) Encarnacion. I was kind of laughing, ‘Well, that’s the pitch it told me he’d hit.’
“You learn it’s not just raw stuff against raw stuff. I always thought if I threw my curveball down and it had enough break and if I threw my fastball outside enough or inside enough, it would make the difference. Hitters just started to make it easier on themselves. They weren’t waving at the stuff I wanted them to wave at.
“The adjustment isn’t always just adding a pitch. The adjustment is mental. I always thought the adjustment I made from my first year to my second was adding a changeup. But that was just adding a pitch. Now, I feel these past few years have been a true adjustment. And I’m more believing in that now.”
You leave Lincecum in the suite. He keeps talking to media. You realize he’s crossing an immense boundary. It is the journey from innocence to experience. And it is fraught with failure. Some succeed.