Lincecum embracing studious approach to pitching
Two-time Cy Young winner committed to studying hitters, using mental side
SAN FRANCISCO -- In previous years, some of the first updates about Tim Lincecum as the baseball season approached were about his hair, or his lack thereof, or his non-prescription glasses.
This year, it is about what's between his ears.
After two rough seasons, a hefty new contract and the adoption of a more studious approach to the game, he and the Giants hope the rotation stalwart and fan favorite is on the rebound heading into 2014.
With a two-year, $35 million deal that demonstrated the Giants certainly are believers that he is back on the upswing, Lincecum is physically prepared as always. Just as important, he has a new commitment to studying hitters and using the mental side of the game, aspects he knows now are vital for him to rekindle the success he'd established early in his career.
"I feel like I'm making that evolution a little bit more," he said Friday as he and other Giants personnel met with the media in advance of Saturday's Giants FanFest at AT&T Park. "I'm buying into it, which is the biggest part -- the mental agreeing thing."
Clearly, an adjustment had to be made. Just being the Tim Lincecum he'd always been simply wasn't working anymore.
To be the pitcher he wanted to be -- and the one the Giants and anybody who'd watched him in previous years knew he could be -- Lincecum realized last season he'd have to put more time into studying the game, analyzing the hitters he'd face each start, and recognizing the pitching assets he now had.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy says it's the type of evolution every pitcher has to go through at some point, and Bochy believes the bumpy road Lincecum traveled much of the last couple of seasons is behind him.
"I think Timmy's in a good place, I do," Bochy said. "I think he's comfortable with where he's at. I think he's settled in at where he's going to pitch, as far as his stuff and velocity.
"He made some great adjustments last year pitching with his equipment, as I like to say, not coming in to try and dominate and overpower guys. He's really turned the corner as far as making the adjustment to pitching with what you have."
It's that level of endorsement the Giants as an organization bestowed upon the pitcher with the two-year pact to keep him in San Francisco, retaining a player who was such a big part of the team's historic run to two World Series titles in three seasons.
"Familiarity is the biggest thing for me," said Lincecum, who signed his deal Oct. 26, before he could really find out what free agency was like. "Coming back to an organization that has had nothing but respect for me and has shown me that, it's kind of hard not to return that and show them that I want to be back, and that's what happened."
One would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Giants clubhouse who didn't smile and let out a little cheer upon finding out Lincecum would be back, pitching every five days.
"Timmy's been one of our main guys in the years that I've been here, and he's a guy that's not easily replaceable," rotation mate Matt Cain said. "I think it's great to have him back. We definitely needed him to sign back, and I think we're all pumped that he did."
Said catcher Buster Posey: "I was definitely excited when Tim signed back. He's such a good teammate, somebody who you look forward to seeing every day."
What Lincecum delivered on the mound for much of the last two seasons was something the Giants were not accustomed to seeing from their No. 1 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. His 5.18 ERA in 2012 was the highest among all qualifiers, and he struggled through much of the first half of last season.
But after his first career no-hitter in July, Lincecum had a second half Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti sees as progress.
"I like the way he pitched toward the end of the year and in the second half," Righetti said. "I think he's coming to grips with all of that. I thought he had a different kind of confidence when he went out on the mound. There was a period when he wasn't quite sure where to be. He was in between. I think he really got comfortable with who he was that last portion of the year."
A big part of that was studying hitters, really for the first time in his Major League career. Righetti said Lincecum was looking for a way he could be better, and he went all-in on studying video and other sources of information on hitters.
"It's just going to be one of those things that I carry on into my career. It's now an addition, and it's something that I don't think I will ever not do," Lincecum said.
Now 29, Lincecum enters the 2014 season with a more studious approach, one that is the product of his evolution as a pitcher.
"That's what you go through," said Righetti, a pitcher himself for 16 years in the Majors. "We all do, we've all had to do it."
"It's a fact," Bochy said. "Then it's up to the pitcher to make those adjustments, and I think Timmy's done a good job of it."
Just how good a job truly remains to be seen. But he's where he is most comfortable. He's a man with a plan.
He's not that many years removed from back-to-back Cy Young seasons in 2008-09, and he still has the desire to be that Tim Lincecum, the one among the elite pitchers in the game.
"I'm always going to be going out there with the intention of being a Cy Young pitcher," Lincecum said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.