Link 10-20-2011: PITCHf/x analysis of Lackey

Josh Weinstock takes a look at what’s troubling John Lackey the past two years as a Red Sox.

The PITCHf/x data shows his velocity and movement to be just fine, but it appears his command is slipping. Specifically, fastballs to lefties have been right over the plate at times and have gotten clobbered to the tune of .343/.401/.514 this year. Much of that is due to an astronomical .383 BABIP for southpaws, but you have to admit it’s concerning the way everything appears to be over the heart of the plate.

One other hint that command was an issue: try 19 hit batsmen in 160 IP on the season, a new career high. His previous high was 12 back in 2007, and he pitched 224 innings that year.

If you look at his pitch selection, you’ll see that Lackey went away from his fastball and towards his slider a lot more this year, possibly because of this issue. That’s been his only plus pitch since he’s joined Boston. The pitching coach needs to get in there and work with this guy, because he’s not going anywhere until he builds up some trade value.

10-17-2011: The Lackey situation

Everyone is pretty worried about John Lackey and the three years remaining on his contract. What do we do with this albatross? Certainly none of the stats guys saw this coming. Curt Schilling claims that Lackey can’t rebound from the year he’s had, and the stats are beginning to agree. Here’s what we see in the crystal ball, taking into account his poor performance this year:

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6-21-2011: A quick note about Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller was pretty good last night. Apart from a costly mistake to Orlando Hudson, he threw the ball quite well for a depth starter. The big youngster has all the talent in the world, but has struggled with mechanics and confidence issues. His PITCHf/x data is not up yet on FanGraphs, so we have to rely on observations for now.

Miller took it into the 6th inning and was able to go out there and stick to his delivery for the most part; Terry Francona noted that even when he slipped out of his normal motion, he was able to correct himself and avoid extended wildness. Maybe the biggest encouragement was his fastball velocity, which had declined in previous years, but was sitting at 93-94 mph last night.

Peter Gammons said that the Yankees, among other clubs, were trying to get Miller to opt out on June 15, but failed when the Sox called on him this week. Miller might be one of those reclamation projects that pays some dividends. With Daisuke Matsuzaka lost for the season, that would be a welcome development.

5-17-2011: What we know about our pitchers by now

While several hitting statistics are starting to stabilize by this point in the season, pitching stats take quite a bit longer to mean something. At 150 batters faced, you can reference strikeout rate, GB rate and line drive rate, and at 200 batters faced, you can talk about fly ball rate and FB/GB ratio. Here’s a look at these numbers from our rotation:

2011 2010
Name BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB
Lester 238 24.4% 55.3% 12.0% 32.7% 1.69 861 26.1% 53.6% 16.9% 29.6% 1.81
Buchholz 202 14.9% 47.0% 14.6% 38.4% 1.22 711 16.9% 50.8% 17.7% 31.5% 1.61
Beckett 195 25.1% 43.8% 16.4% 39.8% 1.10 577 20.1% 45.8% 19.0% 35.3% 1.30
Lackey 192 9.9% 33.6% 21.2% 45.2% 0.74 930 16.8% 45.6% 18.4% 36.0% 1.27
Matsuzaka 167 15.6% 31.6% 12.8% 55.6% 0.57 664 20.0% 33.0% 21.6% 45.5% 0.73
Wakefield 99 11.1% 37.5% 16.3% 46.3% 0.81 610 13.8% 37.0% 16.5% 46.6% 0.79

You can see that Jon Lester is his same dominant self, and that he is clearly the ace of this staff, boasting very high strikeout and ground ball rates. Josh Beckett is fully healthy, striking out hitters at the highest rate in the rotation and a lower line drive rate. Clay Buchholz is very solid in these peripherals, and so we should continue to see solid starts out of him, though he won’t likely reproduce that sub-3.00 ERA from last season.

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4-25-2011: Some props for the gloves

Wow, does it ever feel good to get the standings back into whack (for the most part). The Sox have now won 8 of their last 9 games, and looked really good doing it. Everything seems to be falling into place; even Carl Crawford is getting it started at the plate. The rotation suddenly looks like the collection of four aces I was effusing about before the season, and we are getting innings from them, making the bullpen look very strong recently.

The rotation is getting all the accolades for their recent domination, but don’t forget that a lot of this recent run is thanks to some pretty good defense. The Red Sox rank 5th in baseball with a .734 DER, just behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who we know can really pick it. Though it hasn’t had much time to really stabilize and be reliable, Ultimate Zone Rating likes the Red Sox at +6.6 runs on the year, 7th best in MLB. John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system has the Sox at -5 on the year, but we know that there were some pretty blatant gaffes early that probably contributed to that.

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4-12-2011: Dice-K stinks it up, like number 5s tend to do

When I heard how confident everyone was that the Rays would come to town and be no-hit for the series, I knew that we were in trouble. No matter how bad the April numbers are, no team is as bad as you might think. But wow, 20 hits?

Just how bad was Daisuke Matsuzaka last night? Really bad. The Red Sox basically had no chance to win it after the second inning, and you can see that graphically, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Win Probabiilty graph, TBA @ BOS, 4/11/11

And he was horrific, no argument. The stuff was actually comparable to his first start in Cleveland, which was not too bad, but he absolutely couldn’t hit his spots. Terry Francona said that Matsuzaka has had command problems before, but last night he was “middle-middle”, which is what only a good batting practice pitcher aspires to be.

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4-11-2011: Josh Beckett shines against the Yankees

Josh Beckett threw eight innings of two-hit ball at the New York Yankees yesterday in what some are calling his best start in Fenway, ever. Not bad for a washed-up, overpaid veteran. Beckett showcased two strong fastballs, a harder cutter, and the nasty curve of the Beckett who came up with the Marlins last night, and it was a welcome sight to behold. Those of you who were trying to retire Beckett at the age of 31 better recognize.

What made the difference?

Beckett was really able to command his fastballs all night. Once he established the two- and four-seamers early, he was able to go to throwing changeups away and cutters in to lefties. He maintained his velocity well throughout the night, and things seemed to be working better overall, if velocities have anything to say about it. Here’s some PITCHf/x data from last night’s start compared with his start on April 5th in Cleveland:

Velocity Good Beckett Bad Beckett Difference
4-seam FB 93.6 92.2 1.4
2-seam FB 93.4 91.9 1.5
Cutter 90.5 88.6 1.9
Curveball 75.4 74.6 0.8
Change 88.4 87.4 1.0

Even if you assume that the calibration of the PITCHf/x system is slow at the Jake, you still see a noticeable hop in the fastballs relative to the other pitches. Added fastball velocity is always good.

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4-11-2011: Buchholz signs a 4-year extension

The Red Sox announced a contract extension yesterday, but not for the player you might have expected. Young Clay Buchholz has signed a 4-year deal worth a reported $29.945M which buys out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. The deal is pretty similar to the extension they signed with Jon Lester last season, though for one less guaranteed year. Boston will also hold two club options on Buchholz for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The year-by-year breakdown is given by The Full Count Blog here:

Signing bonus: $1M
2012: $3.5M
2013: $5.5M
2014: $7.7M
2015: $12M

2016 option: $13M with a $245k buyout
2017 option: $13.5M with a $500k buyout

There are some standard bonus clauses for Cy Young finishes.

I wouldn’t worry about Buchholz’ slow start to 2011 (not yet, anyway). His 7.20 ERA is inflated by an incredible 31.3% HR/FB rate, which is roughly three times his career average, and about six times higher than what he did last season. I think after he works through some early season stuff and gets comfortable working with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, we will see some solid pitching out of him.

Good contract or bad?

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4-5-2011: Matsuzaka and first innings

Via ESPN, there’s a list of pitchers who are known to have terrible first innings. Our own Daisuke Matsuzaka is right there (7.56 ERA), fourth on the list behind others like Kevin Millwood (11.03), Chris Narveson (9.32) and Johan Santana(7.76). Hmm. I was all prepared to say something nasty about these guys, but then Santana’s name is in there. Of course, this is just 2010 data, so we’re not talking about a whole lot of starts here.

I’ve noticed before that Daisuke seems to be slow in getting into a groove, so I wanted to expand this to his MLB career to see if it was more generally true. Here’s the data:

Year Starts ER ERA Clean 1st %Clean
2007 32 16 4.50 22 69%
2007p 4 0 0.00 4 100%
2008 29 12 3.72 17 59%
2008p 3 3 9.00 1 33%
2009 12 9 6.75 8 67%
2010 25 21 7.56 16 64%
Totals 105 61 5.23 68 65%

Clearly 2010 was a particularly bad year for Matsuzaka. But we can take his career 5.23 ERA in first innings and compare it to his overall ERA, which is 4.18 and say that he does seem to have trouble first innings. The 65% clean inning rate doesn’t seem terribly out of line with what is expected statistically for an average pitcher. Combine those two things, and we can conclude that Dice-K struggles with big first innings (moreso recently).

Playing catchup is no fun for anyone, and that’s probably why people have such a bad impression of Matsuzaka as a pitcher, even though his ERA is actually better than Josh Beckett’s career ERA of 4.28 as a Red Sox. In addition to staying healthy, Matsuzaka needs to prepare for games better, and then he just might be a good pitcher again.

4-4-2011: Separating the real worries from the imaginary

Try not to get swept away (pun intended) in the collective madness that is Boston fandom and sports media. I think the Sox got taken in by the sky-high expectations and all the preseason love. When everyone except Hank Steinbrenner picks you to win your division, and people start talking about 100 wins in a division like the AL East before a single pitch is thrown, it doesn’t matter how focused you say you are, it will affect you. In an ironic twist, they experienced a bit of what the Yankees went through every year for so long, and they flunked the test with flying colors.

Baseball has this way of making things look better or worse than they really are. The Sox are very much still contenders, but they are starting from an 0-3 deficit now (so is Tampa Bay, BTW). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to some real baseball, what do you say, guys?

Things that shouldn’t worry you yet

Jon Lester didn’t strike out a single Ranger in his start.

It’s hard to explain what happened, but it just wasn’t Jon’s day. The fastball velocity was a little lacking, but that’s not unusual at the start of the season. Lester has always been a slow starter, for whatever reason. He’ll get into his usual streak of 5-6 shutdown starts by the beginning of May.

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