SI Vault
 
How Tiny Tim Became a Pitching Giant
Tom Verducci
July 07, 2008
The mechanics of diminutive Tim Lincecum—looks 18, throws 98—are more than an act of violence, they're a marvel of modern science. Unconventionally honed by his father, that delivery has produced the most fascinating ace of his generation
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 07, 2008

How Tiny Tim Became A Pitching Giant

The mechanics of diminutive Tim Lincecum—looks 18, throws 98—are more than an act of violence, they're a marvel of modern science. Unconventionally honed by his father, that delivery has produced the most fascinating ace of his generation

View CoverRead All Articles

AS IF PEERING around a corner, the Freak tilts his head slightly to the left as he begins his explosive, homemade pitching delivery. What lurks around that corner is either greatness or danger, which makes tiny Tim Lincecum, all 172 pounds of him, the most fascinating pitcher in baseball. Not since Mark (the Bird) Fidrych spoke to baseballs, manicured mounds and baffled hitters more than 30 years ago has a pitcher been this consistent and this captivating from the start of his career. Lincecum does not throw a baseball as much as he launches it, 98-mph rockets somehow expelled, with finely tuned kinetic energy, from a batboy's body. He scares hitters and scouts alike.

"There aren't too many comparables at his size, especially as starting pitchers," says Cleveland Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, whose team in 2005 drafted but did not sign Lincecum, still available at pick No. 1,261. A stumped Indians scouting department could not agree whether the undersized righthander was an ace, a closer, a setup man or a horrific medical disaster waiting to happen. "It looks like his head is going to snap off and his arm is going to fly off," Shapiro continues. "Body type has something to do with it, but the way he throws too."

"Timmy?" Giants manager Bruce Bochy says when approached by a reporter about Lincecum. "You mean the Freak?"

Lincecum, 24, his boyish face framed by an ink-black curtain of shaggy hair, has little use for comb or razor. The San Francisco Giants' ace has been stopped for trespassing by clubhouse security attendants who don't believe he is a ballplayer. In early June he showed up for work in Washington, D.C., wearing jeans, a T-shirt and a black wool hat pulled low in the 90� heat. He is 5'10"—maybe. He is 172 sinewy pounds of skin, bones, fast-twitch muscles and, in the heat of battle, intracooled circulatory and nervous systems.

It frightens the chaw out of the cheeks of traditional baseball people that someone so lithe can throw 98 mph. The skittish Baltimore Orioles, picking ninth in the '06 draft, basically took him off their board—though by then Lincecum, a junior at Washington, was a two-time Pac-10 pitcher of the year who had struck out more batters than any other pitcher in conference history, including Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. "We took a high school hitter," recalls then-- Baltimore general manager Jim Duquette, referring to Bill Rowell, a third baseman who is hitting .225 in high A ball. "There was a feeling that [ Lincecum] was short, not a real physical kid, and mechanically he was going to break down, that there was enough stress on his arm, elbow and shoulder. Our scouting department kind of pushed him down because of the medical aspect."

Six of the first seven teams to pick in that draft selected pitchers. All of them passed on Lincecum, even the Seattle Mariners, who played it safe in choosing the strapping 6'3" righthander Brandon Morrow—a guy they use in relief at that—rather than the Freak in their own backyard. The Giants took Lincecum at No. 10. He pitched only 13 times in the minors, allowing seven earned runs and whiffing 104 batters in 62 2/3 innings, before it became obvious to San Francisco that it had a prodigy who was wasting his time down there.

Since his May 2007 call-up Lincecum has been only slightly more challenged by major league hitters. In 40 starts through Sunday, he was 16--6 with a 3.30 ERA and 264 strikeouts in 256 innings. Only one starting pitcher in baseball history, Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets in the mid-'80s, has won 70% of his decisions over his first two seasons while logging more strikeouts than innings.

Lincecum's reliability at the start of his career is historically remarkable. He is one of only seven pitchers since 1956 to throw 30 quality starts in his first 40 games. If there is any justice in baseball, or the least bit of awareness of plot, Lincecum will take the ball as the starter at Yankee Stadium in this month's All-Star Game just as Fidrych did in Philadelphia in 1976.

HOW CAN it be that a runt like Lincecum, who learned virtually everything he knows about pitching from a parts inventory employee for Boeing, is this good, this reliable while a 6'5", 225-pound, broad-backed pitcher template such as Prior, the epitome of modern training and coaching, routinely breaks down?

The Boeing employee who taught Lincecum how to pitch is his dad, Chris, a vibrant, fast-talking 60-year-old whom you don't dare disappoint with the wrong answer when he asks, "You want the long version or the short version?" One day last month Chris telephoned his son with a concern.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8