truly separates himself from most pitchers is the length of his stride. It is
ridiculously long as it relates to his height. And just as his left foot, the
landing foot, appears to be nearing the ground at the end of his stride, he
lifts it as if stepping over a banana peel—extending his stride even more. The
normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum's
stride is 129%, or roughly 7 1/2 feet.
came naturally," Tim says. "My dad always told me to sit down on my
back leg as long as I could and push off as much as I could. I'm trying to get
as much out of my body as possible. I've got to use my ankles, my legs, my
hips, my back.... That's why I'm so contorted and it looks like I'm giving it
full effort when it's not exactly full effort."
As for the
"step-over" move near the end of his stride, Lincecum explains,
"That's from my hips. I'm getting everything toward the target, and my hips
want to go. My hips can't just go and open up. I'm trying to create torque.
That's when everything kind of explodes. My body comes, and [my arm] is just
kind of along for the ride."
A long stride,
however, carries two severe risks for pitchers: 1) It can compromise the
ability to rotate the hips; and 2) it can cause a pitcher to land on his heel
with a stiff front leg, the equivalent of slamming on the brakes in a car. Jump
and then land on your heels. The shock of the impact travels up your legs to
your hips. It hurts. Imagine doing it 100 times a game over many games over
many years. It's no wonder that long-stride pitchers such as Britt Burns, who
needed a hip replacement, and Jason Schmidt, who can't stay off the disabled
list, break down.
Now jump and land
on the balls of your feet and your toes. The shock is absorbed with the help of
the toes, feet, ankles, legs and bent knees. How can Lincecum take such a long
stride and still land on the ball of his left foot with a bent front knee? One
secret, he explains, is what he calls his "ankle kick," a snapping of
his right ankle as his right foot, the back foot, leaves the rubber. Lincecum
comes off the rubber with such snap that, upon the ball's release, his right
foot is more than a foot in front of the rubber, shrinking the distance—and
thus stealing precious time—between him and the batter.
"My dad never
taught me to lunge at the plate," Tim says. "It kind of came naturally.
That ankle kick that I get and the drive that I get from my back leg will make
a big difference in how I get to the plate and how I pitch that day."
There is another
secret to Lincecum's ability to land so softly with such a long stride: his
extreme athleticism. It takes tremendous balance and coordination to pull it
off. Many pitchers are poor athletes who happen to be blessed with one very
specific skill. Lincecum has the body of a gymnast and can rip off a backflip
or walk on his hands to prove it. Chris likes to tell the story of how Tim came
home one day during his junior year of high school and said, "Dad, I want
to try out for the golf team." Chris pointed out that Tim had played 27
holes in his life and didn't even own golf clubs. No matter. Playing with a
borrowed set, Tim needed to shoot 40 on the last of three nine-hole rounds to
make the team. He shot a 39.
Once the landing
foot hits the ground, every pitcher must have the ball in the loaded position;
that is, the ball is raised behind him, ready to come forward and be delivered.
Think of the cocking of a gun before it fires. Here Lincecum again separates
himself from most pitchers with his athleticism and timing. As he reaches the
loaded position, Lincecum's hips have just opened so that his belt buckle is
facing the batter. His torso, however, has not yet begun to rotate toward the
plate. The GIANTS on his home jersey is facing third base and his left shoulder
remains pointed directly at the target. Only then, with his body essentially
twisted against itself, does the torso fire, creating more rotational power as,
at last, after this symphonic whipsaw action of his body, his arm simply
"comes along for the ride."
Once the baseball
leaves his hand, Lincecum isn't done. An abrupt stop of the shoulder will lead
to back and shoulder injuries, so to keep his right shoulder moving after the
ball is gone Lincecum must keep his torso moving over his front leg. To create
this sustained momentum, Chris invented a drill in which he placed a dollar
bill on the ground to the left and in front of the landing spot of Tim's left
foot. Tim would have to pick up the dollar in the same motion after releasing
always stressing, 'Pick up the frickin' dollar! If I put down a hundred-dollar
bill, you'd pick it up every time!'" Tim says. "If I get out there and
get myself over [the front leg], my follow-through should be the tail end of
when you whiplash a whip. That's what it is for me. Like Tiger Woods finishing