Science of a Pitching Freak

The unconventional biomechanics of Tim Lincecum

They call him the Freak. Standing on the mound at 5'10" and weighing in at just 172 pounds, Tim Lincecum's nickname isn't describing an imposing physical presence, but referring to his lack thereof. Ninety-eight mile-per-hour fastballs aren't supposed to come from frames like that.

Exactly what enables the San Francisco Giants phenom to defy logic was the focus of a recent Sports Illustrated article. In short, the Freak relies on a different set of biomechanics. His motion is smooth, without any hitches. His left side remains pointed at the target for as long as possible. His follow-through is long and low. His stride length on the mound is 130 percent of his height, while most pitchers' are just 72-90 percent. Just try taking a stride that long. Then do it 100 times per game on a dirt mound. His motion requires an athleticism and flexibility that most major league pitchers just don't have.

Surely such novelty is the product of decades of biomechanics research focused on the optimization of pitching techniques? Not exactly. Lincecum is merely his father's son, taught in the backyard to throw the way his dad once did as a youth pitcher. It was his dad who told him to "pick up the dollar" on his follow-through and to extend his front leg as far as possible.

"My dad and I aren't very large guys, so it's about efficiency and getting the most out of our body that I can," said Lincecum to SI. "He learned that, and I'm a modified version of that. He was the prototype and I'm version 2.0."

With each level Lincecum has reached, one rule has held true: Leave his mechanics alone.

"I treat Timmy differently from most pitchers: I leave him alone," said Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti.

But is that a good thing? The article offers statistics showing how impressive Lincecum has been in his 40-plus starts since his call-up in May of 2007. But it's only 2008 and that's 40 starts, not 400. The piece refers to the impressive work being done by the American Sports Medicine Institute to analyze every nuance of a pitcher's motion (42 measurements specifically) in hopes of keeping them off the disabled list. What's odd is that the article fails to specify how Lincecum's Freak mechanics comply with what the experts recommend. It does reference the breakdown of Mark Prior and shows how Lincecum is different--we hope. The longevity of pitchers isn't judged in years; it's judged in decades. Here's hoping he'll last that long.