Change of place

Two years ago, you could make the argument that Tim Lincecum had the best changeup for a right-handed pitcher and Cole Hamels had the best one for a lefty.

That argument still holds half true, as the two go head-to-head in San Francisco this afternoon. Statistically speaking, Lincecum’s changeup is among the best out pitches in baseball. But the one Hamels possesses, statistically speaking, isn’t as much of a finish pitch as it used to be.

What’s the reason that Hamels is struggling to a 5.11 ERA through his first four starts this season? We take a look, with the help of our Inside Edge video review data.

In Hamels' last start, his changeup was in the strike zone too often (normally it drops down and out of the zone), and the Diamondbacks hitters pounced on it. Hamels gave up more hits with the pitch (three) than he got outs (two) with it, and that’s an extraordinarily unusual result for him.

In 2008, when Hamels was at his World Series-winning best, he got about about five outs for every hit he allowed with the changeup.

In 2010, it’s been much more hittable. His outs-to-hits rate is only about 3:1.

Now, take that difference and couple it with this:

Hamels has gone from throwing about 14 curveballs per start in 2008 to nine per start in 2010.

The curve hasn’t been a weapon either in the strike zone, or out of it (he’s thrown 22 out of the strike zone…hitters have swung at one). He’s gotten about the same numbers of outs (four) with the hook, as he has allowed hits (three).

One other interesting note: The second time through the order has been a trouble spot for Hamels. Hitters are hitting .406 with four home runs against Hamels in his second turn through the lineup, and have accounted for 10 of the 14 runs Hamels has allowed.

While Hamels is struggling to find his way, Lincecum is cruising through the early part of the season. Basically Lincecum has what Hamels wants -- dominance.

How dominating is Lincecum? The No. 3 hitter in the batting order is 1-for-12 against him. The No. 5 hitter is 0-for-11. Those same two lineup spots against Hamels -- a combined 10-for-24 with three home runs.

What works for Lincecum is the tantalizing nature of his pitches. The changeup or slider outside of the strike zone looks like a strike coming out of his hand and thus the hitter commits.

If you want to talk finishability, right now, Lincecum’s got it. He’s gotten 30 outs with pitches out of the strike zone (12 with the changeup), allowing just one hit. Hamels’ rate of 20 outs, and four hits allowed (five-to-one), pales in comparison at this point.