Mailbag: Chatting with Chris Lincecum
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
January 23, 2007
Last summer, Richard Van Zandt watched #1 Giants prospect Tim Lincecum pitch from the most informative and entertaining spot in the stadium - the one in front of Tim's father, Chris. In this email exchange between Chris and Richard, several loose ends are tied up from Richard's previous article: Tim Lincecum - The Future.
Chris Lincecum -
The other day I received an e-mail from the father of a kid I've worked with, on and off, for the last couple years. Along with some questions and thanks from the dad, he also sent me the article you wrote on August 7th called “Tim Lincecum - The Future".
I agreed with the insight you had and the candid, positive way you wrote it. I didn't know there were any media types around me, even though I've been approached by many these last 4 years. I've been told by some that they appreciate mine and Tim's lack of "white-washed" comments that we spew.
I'm contacting you just to let you know I appreciate your words and thoughts on Tim and that if you have any other questions I'll be glad to answer them for you. There have been so many articles and scouting reports on Tim that I don't even come close to seeing all of them. I saw yours and thought I'd respond.
Keep up the good work and I hope I wasn't a pain for you to sit next to. I've been labeled by some of the scouts up here in the Northwest as "the Entertainer" because of my vocal (and most times humorous) remarks during Tim's games.
Anyway, Take care and Happy New Year for you and your loved-ones.
P.S. Who is Ron Kulpa?
Richard Van Zandt -
Well first of all let me just say thank you very, very much, not only for reading my piece and your kind and complimentary words about it, but just for taking the time to write to me as well. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to find your e-mail in my in-box.
As for the "media type," well I must confess that I'm really only an amateur and I was actually going to tell you that I intended to write a piece (at least going to the game I thought I might) but as soon as Tim left the game, I turned around and you were gone. But I really appreciated the insight you gave me. I can't picture the piece turning out nearly as well without it. It was quite my good luck to happen to sit next to you (and yes, entertaining too).
Before I get to a few questions that I do have, I want to first pass along a "hello" from one Bill Toon who says he played at Green River JC with you. He read my piece as well and e-mailed me. He had some complimentary things to say about you as a pitcher and asked me to say "hello" if I ever got the chance. Never thought I would but now that I do I would be ashamed of myself if I didn't.
Also, Ron Kulpa. He was the HP umpire at the Giants game the night before and was the one who tossed Bonds in the 9th inning (as docile Felipe Alou sat peacefully watching in the dugout) and thus setting off a frenzy of trash being thrown onto the field.
Now I've got just a few questions if you don't mind. First and foremost, I keep seeing and hearing some people say that Tim should be the Giants closer in the future. I think that would be a ridiculous waste of his talent (and let me tell you that as a lifelong Giants fan I have come to be very wary of heaping accolades on pitching prospects lest they should end up like William Van Landingham - which should emphasize how impressed I am with Tim). In my mind, Tim's future is as a starter. If he doesn't make the rotation in camp, I would expect him to be in the minors as a starter rather than in SF as a reliever. So my first question(s) is this. What is your sense of what the Giants have in store for him? Do they have any intension of him ever pitching out of the pen or am I right in assuming he is viewed by Sabean and crew as a starter only?
Secondly, what kind of look do you think they will give him in camp? At the game I asked you if he might have a shot at the roster in '07 and you said that they hadn't yet ruled out a September call-up (a later question on that). As I see it, Hennessey, Sanchez and Tim will all get a look for the 5th spot. Am I seeing it right? Either way I'd say it's likely he'll make his debut in '07. Do you feel that's likely too?
Also, is it true you threw 88 mph at age 55? I got another e-mail from a Giants/Tim fan who told me that. You're not left handed, are you? Thought about a comeback? lol...
Now that guy seemed to know quite a lot more about Tim then I did to tell the truth. Nevertheless, he had a few questions for me that I thought I might ask you if I've not bothered you enough already.
You know what? I just re-read it and I'm just going to forward it to you. Answer any of his questions for me if you want or none if you don't feel like. I greatly appreciate any insight you might share.
I am most curious about one question of his though in regards to the start on September 15 that Jason Schmidt missed in Colorado. That game - a terrible pounding by the Rockies - led to a disastrous road trip which resulted in the Giants’ elimination from
postseason play. Apparently Tim would have pitched on the 14th had SJ not been eliminated from the playoffs. That you know of, did the Giants ever consider Tim for that start?
Well I won't take any more of your time for now. Again, I appreciate hearing from you. Oh, just one more question. Has Tim read my piece? If so, what were his thoughts? Just curious. I really can't believe that you read it. What a thrill. And thanks for the New Year's wishes.
All the best to you and yours. I have a pretty good feeling about 2007.
Chris Lincecum -
Glad you liked it. The last five or six years have been very exciting. Tim’s performance and accolades were almost beyond belief. I've been fortunate to be the main influence in his life (the school work, his athletics, his character, and most of all his pitching).He's given me much credit. That speaks of his character and makes me even more proud.
The reason I left was to talk to Tim and get back to the airport for a flight. I still work for a living at Boeing and had to get back to Bellevue that night. I've filmed so many games in so many sports that once I've filmed him I'm done critiquing and try to relax (after a cigarette).I remember Bill Toon and the next time you hear from him say hi for me.
In reference to Kulpa I'm of the firm belief that there are two teams on the field and it seems that the umpires oft times think they're the third. Two are enough and in most cases I don't believe many of the umpires even played ball in their lives. Oh well; they’re a necessary evil.
Ok, here we go...Mind you I'm very prejudiced when it comes to my children. Personally, I believe he could do all. And like the old timers he could start one game and relieve others. Wouldn’t affect his game or performance...Tim's mentality between the lines is as a pitcher (a gun-slinger if you will).He can handle all roles (starter, mid-relief, set-up or closer). His mentality is old school just like his mechanics. Most of the opinions and comments that have been made about his longevity, durability and mechanics are from those that really don't understand the philosophy of good mechanics. What’s interesting to me is that scouts (always un-named) are quoted saying he'd breakdown or has unconventional mechanics. But when I'd talk to the scouts directly (and there have been many) they'd be nothing but impressed. Bottom line: It was, really, always about his size.
I think Sabean and his staff have Tim labeled as a starter. I believe he didn't bring Tim up last year because the team didn't seem to be in a good position to move on in the play-offs. Tim was told to stay by the phone because he could be called-up at any time. So why waste Tim after a long college season and possibly jeopardize their "Future." However, personally I believe Tim would have been a positive impact to the team’s outcome. Sabean didn't lie about Tim's workload. He merely embellished. Since they've picked-up Zito and have Cain back and a new coach, it's possible that they may use Tim as a reliever or closer.
He'll throw forever and maintain his velocities and has the best breaking ball since Sandy Koufax and the best fastball since Gibson and Feller. His tenacity and focus is unique. Again as his coach at San Jose' quoted, “He’s the whole package." He doesn't let things on the field get to him. He just learns, adjusts and moves on. Maybe his best trait is [that] he's always been a team player since he was little. I think he'll get a good look in spring training. But he was already in SF a few weeks before Christmas for four days for conditioning and will leave next Tuesday (1/9/07) for four more days in Arizona to work out with the invited 40 man roster types. Then spring training in late February. If you ask him directly (face to face) what he wants to do, his answer will be, “I just wanna pitch." He'll be in a SF uniform in 2007...probably early...........
I'm 59 years old and throw right handed....I had a few guns on me (at 52) one batting practice and one of the players told me I'd hit 88 miles and hour more than once. I tried a couple years later and did it again. I wasn't trying to throw fast I was just trying not to hit anybody. I had mostly thrown curveballs to the batters so they could work on seeing them.
When the father of a player I'd been working with sent me your story a bit ago, I yelled upstairs to Tim if he'd seen it...He had....And liked “The Future" part. Didn’t comment on it other then that. But he must have liked it or he would have mentioned his dislikes. There’s been many articles on Tim and I remember one done by a local (Seattle) writer that displeased him because Tim thought there were cheap shots about me and him in it......I agreed with Tim...
Here's a breakdown of Tim's pitches I sent a columnist back in April 2006:
He throws two, two-seamed fastballs and a four-seamed (averaging between 94 and 98 constantly).
1.) One of the two-seamed are with his fingers on top or just on the left side of the closest separation of the seams which sinks and fades to the right of the plate (toward a right-handed hitter).
2.) The other two-seamed fastball is with his finger-tips (index and middle finger) on the top of the top parallel seam (where the seams are closest to each other) which rises when thrown.
3.) The four seam is where his finger-tips are touching the top of the seam where the seams are farthest apart of the ball. It tales a little left or right but stays on plain parallel to the ground and is easier to control and Tim feels it's what they call a heavy ball.
He has two hard breaking curve-balls: His bread and butter which he's thrown since he was about 8 years old. His body mechanics are the same with his breaking balls as it is with his fastballs. The key to having a sharp-breaking curve is the amount of spins and always using a fast arm speed created by using total body whipping mechanics (and a soft grip just like he throws every pitch-What I show anybody that wants to know is that when you hold a ball too firmly the wrist tightens up and end of the whip never takes place. This usually causes sore arms in the bicep and elbow).
The mechanics he uses along with maintaining core muscle strength (and most important the small muscle strength) is why he can throw for so long, while still maintaining his velocity late in his games (even after throwing 125+ pitches). The small muscles are the wrists, elbow, shoulder, lower-back, groin, and around the knee and ankles....
1.) The so-called 12/6 curve is held with the index and middle-finger close together with the index touching and on the left part parallel to the seams when they are closest together on the ball. Pulling the ball down on the same plane as his arm (and "letting" the ball release as apposed to forcing the ball with a snapping wrist so the ball rolls off his fingers). The angle of his shoulders is the key to the direction of the break.
2.) The 2/8 so-called curve has been my favorite and is the first Tim learned and actually breaks twice (over to the left toward a left-handed batter and down). It's held basically the same as the 12/6 but is deeper in his grip (being held with more of his two fingers and thumb as apposed to the holding it between the middle and second joint on the fingers). The angle of the break is again created by the angle of his shoulders which are at a 2/8 angle (as though you are looking at a clock from the mound).
He has developed a slider this year which we worked on years ago but never needed (because if thrown too often while developing his fastball it can cause lack of velocity with the fastball due to muscle-memory which tends to cause a cutter and that slows the ball down). But this year he worked on holding the ball with his fingers close together, like the 12/6 curve, and throwing it at about 1:30/7:30 angle and rather than getting on top of the ball at release he rolls around it. He throws it about mid-eighties speed.
He tried different change-ups for the last three years (the circle with the index and thumb basically touching the tips and throws it with his index, four-finger and little finger controlling it). He's experimented with numerous pressures and deeper in his grip or toward the tips or what they refer to as a football grip and has found a comfort zone with a pitch he worked on in the Cape-Cod league. It dies off to the right and down toward a right-handed hitter in the low eighties.
He throws a splitter (which is nothing more than an abbreviated fork-ball in the upper eighties) and a knuckleball which they don't feel he needs to throw. Some of the players tell me the knuckle is so nasty that nobody would be able to catch it.
All in all his mechanics are (as some people have referred to as freakish or un-orthodox) like the old-time pitchers in the 30's and 40's and early fifties. Example: Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Satchel Paige, Bob Feller. Carl Hubbell, Juan Marichal...
Those athletes didn't throw with just there arms and shoulders as probably 70% or more have been doing for the last 40+ years. Those pitchers don't last for more than 4 to 7 years and usually throw their elbows or shoulders out. Sad thing is that they become pitching coaches and open clinics and teach their mechanics to the children (charging ridiculous fees) addressing their mechanics as "the Pro way" of doing it (after all, all you have to do is watch a game on T.V. and see that most major leaguers are using the muscle-method way of throwing, therefore confirming it), thus creating less than efficient throwers, for the next generation, who in turn throw their arms out and usually can't understand why. Just watching these types of poor mechanics makes me cringe with pain. Pitching is a position that can be taught to almost anybody, but throwing properly is an art and needs to be respected and constantly adjusted due to growth and muscle development and aging. I love it the most in all sports.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.