Data: 5-2, 3.20 ERA, 1.182 WHIP, 2.78 K/BB
Malfunction: On May 15, Lincecum stood at 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA. Since then, he's given up 18 runs in 22 1/3 innings and his ERA has nearly doubled. Perhaps even more amazingly, he walked exactly five men in each of his final four starts in May after having only walked five men once in all of 2009. He was also knocked out of the game on May 26 before completing five innings, the first time he'd failed to go five since September of 2009.
"I really believe all he is doing is missing spots with his fastball."
Diagnosis: There's no question that Lincecum has been missing his spots. For his career, 63 percent of his pitches have been strikes and over his past five starts, it's been 60 percent. Far worse has been his first-pitch strike percentage, which was 57 percent last year, but is only 51 percent this year, so he's starting far more batters on a hitter's count.
Lincecum's declining fastball velocity has been well-documented, as he's just averaged 91.3 mph this year, down from 92.4 in 2009 and 94.1 in 2008. In his last start, he topped out at 93, slower than his average fastball during his first Cy Young campaign. He makes up for it with a solid breaking ball and devastating changeup, but he can't blow people away with the fastball any more, and he's needed more pitches per plate appearance than in previous years. Over the years, he has convinced management, media and fans that his unorthodox mechanics and training regimen keeps his arm injury-free, but there's no question that his declining velocity and increasing pitch counts have coincided with declining results this year. Only Lincecum knows whether he's hurt... but Giant fans know the scoreboard is hurting.
Reboot Directions: His most recent start was better than his May slide — seven innings, six hits, three earned runs, and six strikeouts to two walks — though still not up to his usual standards. Still, it was reassuring to see his strikeout-to-walk ratio back to three and in order for him to continue to succeed with his diminished fastball, it will need to remain there.
Who else currently needs SlumpBot's help?
Nate McLouth(notes), Atlanta Braves .180/299/.287, 3 HR, 14 RBI
Nate McLouth's putrid season has placed him high up on the "worst players in baseball" list, not far from the wretched Aramis Ramirez(notes) (whom I covered a month ago). He has played comparably to trade partner Charlie Morton(notes), who's 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA for the Pirates. McLouth's .225 BABIP isn't helping any, but he's also striking out more than usual and hitting into fewer line drives than usual, and swinging at the first pitch much more than usual. He's a mediocre player who's had horrifically bad luck, with predictably appalling results.
Adam LaRoche(notes), Arizona Diamondbacks .250/.344/.443, 7 HR, 34 RBI
Andy LaRoche(notes), Pittsburgh Pirates .244/.309/.338, 3 HR, 11 RBI
Earlier this year, I profiled the slumping Upton brothers, who have predictably hit better of late. Now the LaRoches have taken the torch. Adam is a notorious second-half player, so his May-June struggles (.688 OPS in his last 34 games) are hardly surprising. But Andy is slowly playing his way out of the major leagues. Once a major prospect in his own right, he is 26 and has never convincingly showed that he can hit in the major leagues. In exactly 1,000 major league at-bats, he has a .663 OPS. Andy's career is on life support, and if he fails to hit for the rest of the summer, he won't be in a slump — he'll be out of a job.
Todd Helton(notes), Colorado Rockies .240/.357/.309, 1 HR, 11 RBI
Todd Helton is 36 and in the twilight of a wonderful career, but his skills are declining and he's unfortunately owed $29 million through 2013. He enjoyed a nice rebound last year, but he hasn't hit 20 homers since 2005, and his power numbers are even worse than his injury-plagued 2008. He hasn't missed any time due to injury this year, but this power outage is so disturbing that he's either injured or on his way out of the league. The Rockies recently bumped him down to sixth in the lineup, but they might do well to give his back a thorough examination. Whether he's injured or not, he isn't doing them any favors by staying in the lineup.