The Angels and Padres hitters did not have a good time yesterday. While they both did manage to eke out some runs, they spent most of the day walking back to the dugout. The pitchers opposing them, Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Lincecum, had their best strikeout stuff, combining for 23 Ks. Yet their starts couldn’t have been much more different. In fact, it might have been Hellickson who provided the more dominant performance.
A quick glance at their pitching lines might make this sound like a crazy notion.
Lincecum: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 13 K
Hellickson: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 10 K
How can 10 strikeouts through 5.2, with 3 earned runs allowed, ever be better than 13 strikeouts through seven with just one earned? By most measures, it is not. Lincecum’s performance tops the charts by nearly every measure: fewer runs, more strikeouts, fewer walks, fewer hits. Lincecum even struck out a greater percentage of the batters he faced. Yet Hellickson leads in a number of categories that signal a streak of pure dominance.
While Lincecum did record 13 strikeouts, he only induced 12 swings and misses. Three of those strikeouts were looking, so he only got two swings and misses that didn’t result in strike three. Intuitively, this seems like the work of a veteran. Set them up, and then when you have two strikes go for the kill. Lincecum used his four-seamer, changeup, and slider to induce 10 of those 12 swings and misses. Hellickson, on the other hand, induced 17 swings and misses. He threw 99 pitches total, meaning he got batters to whiff just over 17 percent of the time. Lincecum threw 105 pitches, meaning he got a swing and miss on 11.4 percent.
The biggest difference between the two was how they attacked hitters. Lincecum leaned on his fastball, and for good reason. He was averaging 92 mph, and maxed out at 95.4. He experienced the least success with the pitch, via the linear weights score on BrooksBaseball.net, but it helped him set up hsi changeup and sldier, which were his knockout pitches. Hellickson threw more fastballs than any other pitch, sure, but his was far less intimidating, averaging under 90 and maxing at 91. Yet it set up his changeup and curveball well, as he got a combined 17 swings and misses with those pitches. It’s no surprise, then, that the Angels did all of their damage off of Hellickson’s fastball.
It almost feels as though Lincecum was the amped up rookie, lighting up the scoreboard with his fastball, while Hellickson was the crafty veteran, mixing and matching his pitches and fooling hitters out of their shoes. The opposite isn’t exactly true — Hellickson doesn’t light up the scoreboard with his fastball, and Lincecum has enough stuff that he needn’t necessarily become crafty — but it does feel like a role reversal of sorts. It is definitely a sign of encouragement for both. Lincecum still has that overpowering stuff, while Hellickson has shown the savvy of a veteran many years his senior.
Every so often baseball gives us a treat when a pitcher induces whiffs and buckles knees on his way to a dominant performance. To get two such performances in the same day is just heaven. That goes even more so when the two pitchers work in different ways. We have a day full of games, but if you take a break from the action make sure to watch Hellickson’s 10Ks and Lincecum’s 13. It’s quite amazing how differently they came about their overwhelming outings.
Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.