Breaking a Slump

Tim Lincecum, the “little pitcher that could” for the San Francisco Giants, now can’t. In his last 19 starts the Giants are 3-16. His Earned Run Average this year is 6.00, which is below mediocre. And Tim, once nicknamed “The Freak” in admiration for his powerful fastball yet small frame, has gone from winning the Cy Young (best pitcher) Award his first two seasons in the Majors, to barely being the fifth best starting pitcher on the team.

Tim "The Freak" Lincecum, starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants.

Tim Lincecum is in a slump.

The slump and the streak are longtime interests of mine. They fascinate me because they are seemingly inexplicable. You’re good, you’re great, you stink – seemingly in the blink of an eye.

For Lincecum, I think you can eliminate the variable of performance enhancing drugs because his success most likely dates from the post-steroid era. He is quite little for a Big League hurler at 5’10”, 170 lbs., after eating pizza and swigging milkshakes. It’s why he was not the first draft pick after a brilliant career at the University of Washington. The Seattle Mariners passed on the hometown hero to the well-publicized disgust of his father, who had been his coach for life.

I watched Lincecum pitch against the Texas Rangers on Sunday and he looked like he was throwing as he had when he was almost always winning. But he walked a few hitters and then gave up the crucial hits that beat him 5-0. He wasn’t terrible – he just wasn’t good enough to win.

So maybe for “Timmy” it’s bad luck, or regression to the mean. Maybe he wasn’t that good during those first two great seasons and luck is evening out.

Probably not.

Maybe the Big League scouts have run his stats through enough computers that they have figured out his patterns or found that he is tipping his pitches.

Lincecum has a distinctive style, and it is possible after four years of watching him sling the baseball, hitters have adjusted to his action.

And maybe he has lost his confidence.

That is what I believe, because it has happened to me so many times in my life. Distraction, bad luck, complacency, the law of averages – one of those silly outliers that can ruin our lives just happens and screws us. Only God knows why – but we begin to doubt ourselves. And when we doubt ourselves we hang a breaking pitch with the score tied and they hit a homer and we lose. And if it happens a couple of times in a row, deep in our cerebellums, we begin to know we’re not great – we’re just good, or okay – and it is not ordained that we should almost always win.

And the slump starts to take over our lives.

Slumps happen in business. I’ve lived through many. I’m not talking about recessions – I mean human slumps – where you make bad pitches to customers. I think there are marriage slumps, and parenting slumps, too. Bad karma, lousy horoscopes, living too close to Detroit, who knows why slumps happen.

And how do you get out of a slump?

Keep doing what made you a winner in the first place. Keep slinging it, Timmy. And of course – change your socks.

Question: Are you superstitious? What are your strangest superstitions?

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3 thoughts on “Breaking a Slump

  1. Derek

    I am not superstitious. And I hate people that feel the need to pass along odd ones – like not showering while their team is winning. Come on, really? You really believe the teams’ results are a direct relation to you not changing your socks in 3 weeks?

    I’ve only found superstitious people to be the ones who gamble or in constant search for luck.


    Lloyd, I couldn’t resist this. The one I am most familiar with is the “three and out”. Many people believe that things happen in threes, with the third event being the critical one. That idea might not be a part of the individuals psyche, but when it does, it can have life changing impacts. As a WWII combat pilot, I had observed the actions, more truthfully reaction, to evading the 3rd event. Feigned illness, self inflicted injuries and any other believable dodges that would be used to avoid the third event. But more seriously, unit discipline often evaporated in the light of self preservation. For some, every time the 3rd event was avoided, by those affected by this superstition, their performance left the rest of the squadron without the cohesion that is needed to be successful in combat.In WWII we weeded out the victims without destroying their dignity or lives. This same superstition has been in play in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also explains why there are so many psychological problems with our volunteer warriors. They have been forced back into combat 3 or more times. They beat the grim reaper twice but the next time they would be watching, worrying and waiting for the 3rd strike. The tenseness is for many unbearable. And for all of us, the 99 percent, who don’t have a family member fighting for our freedoms, this is a deadly superstition to meditate on.


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