Hitters still don't have a shot to figure out Lincecum

Updated: April 6, 2009

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Tim Lincecum went 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA en route to the NL Cy Young last season.

EXPECT MORE GREATNESS FROM LINCECUM

I'm looking forward to seeing yet another dominating season from Tim Lincecum, who takes the mound Tuesday in the Giants' season opener against the Brewers.

Lincecum is coming off a Cy Young-winning season and is only going to be a year smarter this season. That's vitally important for a pitcher because the more opposing batters see them and their tendencies, the better the chance the hitter can figure the pitcher out -- and vice versa. For instance, Lincecum might not have known last year that a certain hitter will be fooled by a 1-2 changeup because that hitter, no matter what, is always looking for a fastball in that spot. This year, Lincecum will know the opposing hitters and be able to form a better plan in attacking them.

This game is all about the database in a player's head. That is why you see great pitchers age like fine wine, as Greg Maddux did and Tom Glavine has. Because even though their stuff might not have the same bite as they get older, they know what they need to do to get batters out.

Now add in that Lincecum has the benefit of learning from new teammate and shoo-in Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. I was always taught that it's better to learn from your elders than to have to learn from your own mistakes. I'm pretty sure Lincecum will follow that path, too.

Given that hitters have the same chance to build up their player databases on the field, some people might think Lincecum has been figured out, but I don't think you can truly figure out someone with such filthy stuff. Everyone knows about his electric fastball, but I don't think enough has been made about his sick curveball that can leave a batter just shaking his head as he walks away or his changeup that doesn't look like a changeup until the batter has already made the wrong decision.

Add it all together and you have a guy who will put together another season with at least 18 more wins, 200-plus strikeouts and a microscopic ERA.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 5 | April 2 | April 1 | March 31 | March 30

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day, ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Buster Olney takes a look back at Jordan Schafer and his big debut with the Braves:

The Braves took batting practice Saturday, and then Bobby Cox summoned Jordan Schafer into his office.

The last two weeks had been an anxious time for Schafer. He had had a great spring training, and he had done the math and knew that he was probably the front-runner to be the Braves' center fielder -- and when Atlanta traded Josh Anderson to the Tigers, well, that likely solidified Schafer's place.

But he was taking nothing for granted, he said Sunday afternoon, chatting on the phone. He didn't know for sure. And you could understand why. Schafer hadn't played above Double-A, and last spring he was suspended 50 games for acquiring performance-enhancing drugs.

"Congratulations," Cox told him, and Schafer walked out of the office and went to his locker and sent a text message to his dad, Dave. After the Braves played their exhibition that day, he called Dave Schafer, and father and son shared an emotional moment -- Jordan Schafer feeling excited about achieving a lifelong goal, his dad choked up with pride for his son.

He awoke Sunday morning, and it occurred to him, as he gained consciousness, that he would make his major league debut in a few hours -- but he felt no nervousness, he said. "I don't think I've been nervous on a baseball field," he said, about three hours before the first pitch. "I really don't have any jitters."

He had never before faced Phillies starter Brett Myers, and he had talked to Chipper Jones about what Myers threw, his traits, his tendencies, what he liked to do to finish off hitters when he got ahead in the count.

Schafer was slotted into the eighth spot in the Braves' lineup, although the expectation is that he probably won't be in that spot for very long; in time, he'll probably move into the leadoff spot, once Cox begins to feel as though Schafer has a nice foundation of at-bats in the majors. Schafer came to bat in the second inning, and Myers tried to take advantage of the anxiety he probably assumed Schafer would feel, throwing some breaking balls low.

But Schafer took a couple of sliders in the dirt, back to back, barely flinching, and he worked the count to three balls and one strike. Predictably, Myers challenged Schafer with a fastball -- better that than to walk the rookie and create a situation in which the top of the order might come around. Then Schafer, seemingly anticipating the fastball, leaned into the 90 mph heater, and immediately Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino began sprinting back toward the center-field wall.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.


Rob Neyer goes around the majors and offers up his predictions:

No one has asked for them, but here are my predictions anyway:

NL West
1. Dodgers
2. Diamondbacks (WC)
3. Rockies
4. Giants
5. Padres

I had the Diamondbacks in first place until Manny re-upped with the Dodgers, but it's still going to be close and I like Arizona for the wild card. The Padres won't be as bad as everybody thinks, and could finish third almost as easily as fifth.

NL Central
1. Cubs
2. Cardinals
3. Brewers
4. Reds
5. Astros
6. Pirates

I've got the Brewers and Cardinals both winning 83 games, but I'll give the Cardinals the edge because Chris Carpenter and Jason Motte might be twin sensations (though probably not). The Pirates probably are the one team in the majors most likely to lose 100 games.

NL East
1. Mets
2. Braves
3. Phillies
4. Nationals
5. Marlins

The Marlins are drawing some positive reviews because of their unproven-but-obviously-talented starting pitchers, and I have to admit they could surprise me. But the numbers I've seen argue that the Marlins are the worst team in the division, a few games behind the Nationals. As for the Phillies, they'll be pretty good, but I believe the gimpiness of Cole Hamels and the oldness of Jamie Moyer will drop the champs to third place (also, Brad Lidge won't be perfect again this year).

For the rest of this entry from Rob Neyer's blog, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analyst: John Kruk, Chris Singleton

BBTN MINUTE: RAYS, RED SOX GO AT IT AGAIN

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
Gutierrez
Seattle
1MinLirianoTop 6: 1-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
Griffey Jr.
Seattle
1MinLirianoTop 5: 2-2, 0 Outs. None on.
Inge
Detroit
1TorHalladayTop 7: 0-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
Kemp
Dodgers
1SDPeavyTop 7: 3-1, 0 Outs. None on.
Lind
Toronto
1DetBonineBot 4: 3-2, 2 Outs. 2 on.

The complete list of Monday's homers.

MONDAY'S WEB GEMS

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Felix Hernandez• Much of the attention will be on Ken Griffey Jr. and the fact that he homered in his first game back with the Mariners. But don't overlook Felix Hernandez, who struck out six and allowed one run over eight innings in a 6-1 win against Minnesota.
WORST
CC Sabathia• Didn't expect to find CC Sabathia here, did you? Well, here he is after struggling in his debut with the Yankees. The big lefty lasted only 4 1/3 innings in a loss against the Orioles. He gave up six runs and did not record a strikeout. He also walked five.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Mets relievers. The group made it look easy Monday in a win against the Reds. It was far different from the efforts the bullpen routinely put forth last season.

New year for Mets relievers
Strike pct. 2008 strike pct.
Sean Green 72.7 61.9
J.J. Putz 63.7 59.5
Francisco Rodriguez 80.0 60.2

In 2008, Mets relievers blew 29 saves and averaged 3.7 walks per nine innings.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: GRIFFEY HOMERS FOR M'S

NUMBERS TO KNOW

When Jeff Suppan takes the mound Tuesday for the Milwaukee Brewers' season opener against the Giants, he will have big shoes to fill at the top of the rotation. In 17 starts last season with the Brewers, CC Sabathia was dominant, leading Milwaukee to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years.

Suppan has been with the Brewers for two seasons and is 22-22 and allowed the fifth-most home runs in the majors last year. Suppan might not be the strikeout pitcher Sabathia is, but he will need to improve on throwing strikes and walk fewer batters:

Suppan vs. Sabathia (with Brewers)
Suppan Sabathia
Swing-miss pct 15.5 28.7
Strike pct. 62.3 67.5
Walk pct. of PA 7.9 4.8
Strikeout pct. of PA 12.0 24.8

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

Pierre Becquey and Tristan H. Cockcroft examine the 12 games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Becquey and Cockcroft rank the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supply loads of other information that could help shape the way you put together your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes

ESPN INSIDER

Insider Looking for a place to find all you need to know about Latin baseball? Check out the new Latin baseball blog. ESPN The Mag

For more, check out ESPN Insider.