Streaks and Consistency

We’ve all seen it,  in all sports. A player comes out of nowhere and catches fire, surging adreniline into a faltering team. It sends up an instant spark around the area and people come up with all kinds of nicknames and monikers. This happened with Jeremy Lin for the Knicks, Cody Ross for the Giants. Then, just as quickly, they’re gone. Ross hasn’t done anything similar to his 2010 postseason run. A knee injury downed Lin. But others have been consistent, such as Victor Cruz for the Giants, or who could forget Tim Tebow last year? The trick is staying consistent, whether it be for a month, for a year, or for 10 years. We’ve seen the best fall. At one point, Andruw Jones had 6 Gold Gloves, a 51 homer season, and seemed a lock for the Hall of Fame. Now? He’s a backup outfielder with the Yankees. I recently read a book on Jim Abbot. 8th overall pick, went straight to the majors, great story about him and how he made it to the bigs and eventually pitched a no-hitter with just one hand. But at age 28, in his prime, at his peak, he lost 10 mph off his fastball. He never gained it back. What happened? We may never know what causes monoliths to fall and what makes rookies play at an All-Star level. Look at Tim Lincencum.He won 2 Cy Young awards, a World Series, a 4 time All-Star, and last year had his best non Cy Young season. In fact, if he had gotten more run support and therefore more wins, it was probably as good as one of his award winning seaons. This year, his ERA is 6.00. Every time the Giants say he’s close, he just can’t close the gap and get back to what he was. There’s flashes of the old timmy. But that’s all they are, fleeting memories of a a great pitcher. I’m not saying he’s done. He is only 29. But so was Abbot when he lost it. Unlike Abbot, though, Timmy hasn’t lost his fastball. It looked like it at one point, when he was struggling to throw 90 when he once breezed in 96. In the past couple of years, he has lowered his fastball to the 91-94 range, as Matt Cain has to conserve arm strength but still have enough to get hitters out. Recently, he’s been hitting 93 on average, so he seems to have gotten that back. He gave up 2 home runs in the first inning yesterday, then seemed to find it, mixing a nasty curve and following it up with pretty good heat. Then, as always, around the 5th or 6th inning, he began to lose his control, leaving pitches out over the plate and getting hit hard. There is another thing, too. Just watching the game on TV,  I could see his shoulders heaving with fatigue. When Matt Cain pitched his perfect game, or any game, he always seems perfectly controlled, calm, and unflappable. I’ve never seem Bochy pull him because of fatigue, only because of a high pitch count which could lead to tiredness late in the season. But it’s different for Lincencum. Lincencum stands 5’11 and tips the scale at 185 soaking wet. Cain is 6’4, Bumgarner 6’5, Voglesong 6’3, and Barry Zito 6’2, and Zito relies on off speed pitches. So to generate the same velocity as the Giants other All-Stars, Lincencum has to rely on his unorthodox delivery which looks as if requires much more effort than the easy 92 of Bumgarner. This could be wearing on him. The effort to get to 93 in the early innings could be costing him, but it shouldn’t be, not this much, not at this age, not this early in the season. Lincencum conditioned well in the offseason, dropping 15 pounds by laying off In-n-Out. So maybe a little rest would serve him well. Maybe he’s mentally frustrated and is trying  too hard. So what is it that causes players that were so good for so long to drop into these funks, and how do they get out of them, as Albert Pujols has? I think it’s a physical or mental issue, nothing serious, just enough to drop their performance slightly, and that starts a mental trend, confidence issues, and overall performance problems. It’s a catch .22, the only way out is to get lucky. A good start against a bad team may be all Lincencum needs to snap out of this funk, the way Pujol’s first homer got him started. It would be wise for phenomenoms to bask in the glory for a little while. Because everyone eventually falls.

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