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Under the Weather, Lincecum Blanks Phillies

Tim Lincecum was scratched from scheduled starts against Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday while battling a stomach illness. On Thursday, he returned to the mound and had Phillies hitters feeling nauseous. Lincecum went six scoreless innings, striking out six batters and walking four while surrendering three hits. Lincecum's fastball didn't have its typical zip, but he compensated by going to the soft stuff more often.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel summed up Lincecum's stuff, as well as his frustration with his offense:

"Tonight I saw 90 [mph] fastball, 92 at the best," Manuel said. "I saw a good changeup. I saw a breaking ball. I saw a cutter. Good pitching, but at the same time we can beat that."

Perhaps still feeling the effects of that stomach bug, Lincecum averaged 91.1 MPH with his fastball on Thursday, compared to his 92.4 MPH overall average this season. He went to that lower-octane heater less often than usual: Lincecum threw 42 fastballs in 101 pitches (41.6 percent), compared to his 55.4 percent average in 2011. Phillies hitters missed just one of the 17 fastballs that they swung at.

With his fastball not fooling hitters and his breaking stuff missing the mark (a little more than half were thrown for strikes), Lincecum called on his changeup often. He threw 33 on Thursday, with excellent results. Philly missed 10 of the 20 changeups swung at, flailing at the pitch as it tumbled out of the strike zone:

Location of Phillies hitters' swinging strikes against Lincecum's changeup Lincecum got four of his Ks with his changeup, all of them swinging.  Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley all fell victim to the change.

As his four walks and 11 first-pitch strikes in 25 batters faced suggest, Lincecum wasn't at his best on Thursday. But he adapted his approach, realizing that while his fastball wasn't as nasty as usual, he had a killer changeup that could shut down Phillies hitters.



Freddie Freeman Finds His Power Stroke

Freddie Freeman won't turn 22 until September, but Atlanta's rookie first baseman is already producing like a veteran. After last night's 3-for-5 showing versus the Pirates, Freeman has a .287 batting average, a .360 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage. He's besting the cumulative line for major league first basemen in all three triple-slash categories (.267/.342/.442), and he has gone on a serious power binge since a mild spring:

April: .163 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)

May: .118 ISO

June: .202 ISO

July: .267 ISO

Freeman crushed pitches on the inner half of the strike zone in April and May, but he didn't do much damage on low or outside pitches:

Freeman's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, April-May 2011

That was a problem, considering that pitchers most often tossed him stuff low and away:

 Frequency of opponents' pitch location vs. Freeman, April-May 2011 Pitchers continue to throw Freeman low-and-away pitches...

 Frequency of opponents' pitch location vs. Freeman, June-July 2011

But the rookie has seemingly adjusted, drilling pitches at the knees and on the outer half...

Freeman's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, June-July 2011

Covering the low and outer portions of the zone has made the lefty-swinging Freeman an all-fields slugger. Since June, he has hit 10 home runs and 13 doubles. Five of those homers were hit two center field, and two to left field. Nine of Freeman's doubles were sliced to the opposite field, and one was hit to center. The Braves must be thrilled that Freeman has shown the ability to adapt to the scouting reports that teams have on him, punching low and outer-half pitches to center and left field for extra bases.


Missing: Joel Pineiro's Grounders, Control

A few years ago, Joel Pineiro reinvented himself as an earth-scorching sinkerball pitcher possessing exquisite command. That skill set made him nearly a five-win pitcher for the Cardinals in 2009 and earned him a two-year, $16 million contract with the Angels prior to last season. Pineiro pitched well for the Halos in 2010 in between a nearly two-month DL stint for a strained oblique, but he's not burning worms or being as stingy with the walks in 2011.

The 32-year-old righty, who missed most of April with right shoulder tightness, is getting fewer grounders and issuing more free passes as the season progresses:

April/May: 53.1 ground ball percentage, 1.56 walks per nine innings pitched

June: 49.1 GB%, 3.3 BB/9

July: 39 GB%, 3.66 BB/9

Pineiro gets precious few strikeouts (3.9 per nine innings this season, tied with Pineiro's mound opponent on Thursday, Brad Penny, for second-lowest among starters). Without scores of ground balls and great control, he's going to get drubbed.

So, what's the cause of Pineiro's sharply lower ground ball rate and his higher walk rate? You might think it's his sinker, but that's not the biggest reason. Pineiro is getting a lower (but not drastically lower) percentage of grounders with the pitch, while still throwing strikes:

Pineiro's sinker, by month

April/May: 55.1 GB%, 62.7 strike percentage

June: 48.6 GB%, 64.1 strike%

July: 50 GB%, 63.1 strike%

His high-70s curveball and mid-80s slider are different stories, though:

Pineiro's breaking stuff, by month

April/May: 53.8 GB%, 64.2 strike%

June: 53.6 GB%, 67.4 strike%

July: 26.1 GB%, 58.9 strike%

Pineiro's location with his breaking pitches has been way off in July, and batters are often lofting those offerings into the air. Take a look at his curveball and slider location through June:

 Pitch frequency of Pineiro's breaking stuff, April-June 2011

In the strike zone, and at the knees. Now, look at where Pineiro is throwing his breaking pitches this month:

Pitch frequency of Pineiro's breaking stuff, July 2011He's missing low or to the glove side a lot, and when he puts in in the zone, it's higher and over the fat part of the plate.  

When Pineiro is inducing weak choppers and giving up few base on balls, he's a quality starter in spite of his microscopic strikeout rate. Without those virtues, he's a batting practice pitcher. To get back on track, he needs to pound hitters at the knees with his breaking stuff.