5-25-2010: Lackluster Lackey?

First of all, yes, I agree that so far the Red Sox haven’t gotten what they paid for in John Lackey, who was supposed to make up the third leg of the best starting three in baseball. The 31-year old hasn’t been a force on the mound yet, and his numbers are just plain bad at 5.6 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, a 5.07 ERA, and a 5.15 xFIP. That’s fewer strikeouts, more walks and a lot more runs than we were expecting him to give up. Some had chalked this up to bad command, while others have mentioned his curveball being a problem. Things look bleak right now for Lackey and the Red Sox, who just committed almost $83M this offseason. The only bright spot would seem to be his 4-3 record. But the whole point of me writing this is to try and convince you that Lackey hasn’t suddenly just lost it.

About that last start

What I noticed in his last start at Philadelphia, in which he lasted 5 innings, was not that bad. Lackey lived around the edges of the zone for the most part, and his velocity was very consistent with what he’s been doing all year. What I saw was some poor command on his heater (though there were several calls that didn’t go his way) and a few hanging curveballs.

The one that Ryan Howard jacked out to the opposite field in the 4th was due to poor pitch selection/location. After missing outside with a curve high, Lackey came back with the same pitch again, middle-away, and well…let’s just say that Howard’s opposite-field power is well-documented. Lackey fought Jayson Werth in the very next at-bat, but gave him a fat, juicy curve right down the middle on the 6th pitch which he was lucky only went for a double.

The home run to Werth in the 5th was actually not a terrible pitch, I thought- a first-pitch fastball over the inside corner, perhaps a little high that he muscled out down the left field line (interestingly, this is the one pitch Lackey wishes he could have back). Raul Ibanez also doubled off of a Lackey fastball in the 2nd inning. When Lackey got an outside strike call on his fourth fastball to run the count to 2-2, he decided to try it there again and Ibanez took him down the line.

Lackey threw 62 of his 107 pitches for strikes (57.9% is a little low for him; he’s 62.7% this year and 64.0% lifetime); 22 were taken strikes, and 8 were swinging strikes. In his last two starts, hitters have lofted 31 fly balls and 3 HRs against Lackey, which is one reason his line looks worse than it otherwise might.

2010 Lackey vs 2009 Lackey

Let’s take a look at some overall numbers to see if things are as bad as they seem. Most of the usual stats are in line with “normal” values. His BABIP is .304, his LOB% is 71.6%, his FB-rate 39.5%, HR/FB rate 10.0%. Opponents actually have a low LD rate this year at 16.9%. So what hope do we have of him improving?

Lackey’s curveball is a well-known weapon, with a run value of +15.6 runs as recently as 2008. Last year it generated +2.3 runs, still good. But this season it has a negative run value at -6.3 runs. Read that as it has gotten HAMMERED, and often. In contrast, his fastball has been good at +1.5 runs, and his slider has been his most effective pitch, at +1.8 runs.

PITCHf/x tells us that he’s got the same amount of break on his bender as in previous years. Perhaps the curveball problem is due to a drop in fastball velocity. The curveball is, after all, set up by the fastball, and Lackey’s fastball clocks in at 90.9 mph, or about 1 mph slower than last year. However, that’s exactly what it was back in 2007-2008 when he was really effective. So that’s not it. So I think for now I chalk this one up to small sample size. His command of it hasn’t been the best, and hitters have pounced on it when he’s hung it.

They won’t always get it perfect, and Lackey will do better with it, if history has anything to say about it. This guy’s a professional, and he knows a thing or two about his curve, having thrown it over 1000 times in game settings over the past two+ years. Just give Lackey some time, and he will prove worthy of his contract.


2 Responses to 5-25-2010: Lackluster Lackey?

  1. Pat says:

    If Lackey gets back to form, watch out. This team is rolling!

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