With his San Francisco Giants starting the 2011 season with a disappointing record, ace Tim Lincecum pulled his socks extra high last Thursday and dazzled the Padres with a fastball that seemed to dip, dance, and dive before their very eyes.
As a result, Lincecum called it a day after seven superb innings in which he gave up three hits, one run and racked up 13 strikeouts -- two short of his career high. The performance begged us to wonder: How does he do it?
Listed at 5-foot-11, 165-pounds, Lincecum is lanky, rail-thin and -- because he’s been sporting long, shaggy hair and a wispy mustache these days -- looks more like a Lord of Dogtown than a King of the Pitching Mound.
Many of the other elite pitchers of the modern era of baseball are giants in the more literal sense. The 6-foot-6 tall Roy Halladay or Felix Hernandez (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) are big burly men with tree trunk torsos and legs.
This type of body makes sense because the primary source of a pitcher’s power isn’t where you might think -- it’s the core (lower torso and upper legs), not arm strength that drives velocity. That’s why pitching coaches will often spout the maxim: “Pitch with your body, not your arm.”
From Low Draft Pick to MLB Champion
It’s also part of the reason major league scouts all but ignored Lincecum while he dominated his high school competition. He was initially drafted in the 48th round by the Cubs in 2003 even though he was hitting 94-miles-an-hour on the radar gun.
Many saw his 5-foot-9, 135 pound frame and must have believed Lincecum was tapping into Harry Potter-style magic to strikeout batters.
But Lincecum’s unique pitching delivery isn’t wizardry, but the triumph of physics over physique. Most pitchers are taught to separate a delivery into segments -- a step back, a shift of weight while standing on the rubber, the preparation of the ball in a position behind the head and then a violent motion of the body forward along with the snap of the arm.
In contrast, there are no choppy-looking segments to Lincecum’s motion -- he accelerates from 0-to-60 with a smooth flowing move to the plate. Generating even more power is a long stride that would make most racehorses jealous.
The average stride of a 6-foot-tall pitcher is approximately five feet long. Lincecum’s massive step from the mound measures over seven feet.
The average stride of a 6-foot-tall pitcher is approximately five feet long. Lincecum’s massive step from the mound measures over seven feet. He also manages to keep his stride low and forces the muscles in his body to stretch as quickly as possible -- developing an elastic energy that transforms him into the equivalent of the Human Rubber Band. The force builds until the ball whips out of Lincecum’s hand as if from a slingshot.
And as the Padres’ quickly learned -- six out of the first seven batters in Thursday’s game struck out -- the results of Lincecum’s one-of-a-kind pitching mechanics lead to devastating results.
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