Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants pitched a strange game on Saturday night, Sept 3, 2011. Facing the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks with a division race on the line, Tim struck out seven batters in five innings. A high strikeout rate like that usually leads to few hits, as strikeouts limit the number of balls in play that can go for hits. The Diamondbacks, however, managed hits on nine of 16 balls in play against Tim. How did Lincecum manage to pitch both poorly and well in the same game?
Tha answer lies in location. Tim usually gets his strikeouts on pitches that batters chase low out of the strike zone:
Saturday night, Tim's strikeouts were up:
This was his problem throughout the night. His pitches were up in the hittable part of the strike zone:
Compare that to his frequency for the year.
Tim moves a batter's eyes up and down in the zone. On Saturday, he mostly kept his pitches in a single plane. It's a credit to his ability that even when he didn't have his best stuff, Lincecum was able to strike out seven. That wasn't enough to overcome the phat pitches he left in the strike zone, however.