Finding the key to Lackey

MLB: Red Sox vs Tigers MAY 16
I've struggled this season to answer why John Lackey has been so off from anything we have seen from him previously. His Pitch F/x says he has added more cutters, but is that the only change and is it real? After some research I think I have found more of an answer and perhaps bring us closer to a solution. Let's start from the top with Lackey's career K/BB at 2.62 he stands as a very solid arm, but in 2010 he has a dismal 1.22. That comes from troubles in strikeouts and walks and little evidence in the numbers to point to one problem. I have spent plenty of time on this site trying to figure it out since he could be the hinge for the 2010 season being successful. Finally thanks to the Fangraphs.com splits I think I can get a step closer to identifying the problem. If you look at his K/9, BB/9 and K/BB in his lefty vs righty numbers there is a huge red flag. Against right handed batters this year Lackey has a stellar 3.83 K/BB with great control. Then you look at his lefty match-up and you see an amazingly bad 0.62 K/BB.
MLB: Red Sox vs Tigers MAY 16

I’ve struggled this season to answer why John Lackey has been so off from anything we have seen from him previously.  His Pitch F/x says he has added more cutters, but is that the only change and is it real?  After some research I think I have found more of an answer and perhaps bring us closer to a solution.

Let’s start from the top with Lackey’s career K/BB at 2.62 he stands as a very solid arm, but in 2010 he has a dismal 1.22.  That comes from troubles in strikeouts and walks and little evidence in the numbers to point to one problem.  I have spent plenty of time on this site trying to figure it out since he could be the hinge for the 2010 season being successful.

Finally thanks to the Fangraphs.com splits I think I can get a step closer to identifying the problem.  If you look at his K/9, BB/9 and K/BB in his lefty vs righty numbers there is a huge red flag.  Against right handed batters this year Lackey has a stellar 3.83 K/BB with great control.  Then you look at his lefty match-up and you see an amazingly bad 0.62 K/BB.

Perhaps he always struggles against left handers, but his career K/BB against them is 2.20 and has been over three for the past three seasons.  He has faced 178 left handers so far, which is a solid total although not huge.  This along with a drop in ground balls seem to be the central issue for Lackey.  Now let’s look to see what he’s doing differently against lefties.

Using TexasLeaguers.com data we can see this new “cutter” is a large problem.  Against right handers it is a strike 69.9 percent of the time, but against lefties only 58.5 percent.  That is a large swing in strikes and it has less whiffs, fouls and contact in play.  Here is a look at the pitch locations versus each batter type:


The graph on the left shows his pitch location against right handed batters.  Look how the pitches work from high and inside to low and away.  Staying largely in the zone and away from the power areas.

Now the chart on the right is Lackey against left handers and it looks like a mess.  He is hugging the bottom corner low and away, but has moved many of his pitches out of the zone.  On top of that his “cutter” or FC does not look to have any strategy.  It is in every zone and all over the map.

There is still further we could break this down, but it looks like we have started to see where the trouble is coming from.  Something else we could look into is his fastball and curveball are slower when facing lefties.  We can also see is the cutter is working against right handers so we can’t only blame this new approach for he poor season.

This information leads me to believe there is nothing wrong health wise with Lackey and he’s not having trouble with a specific catcher.  Hopefully the staff has noticed this and worked with Lackey and with a 2.00 K/BB against the A’s there is some hope, but being 3.5 games back of the Yankees leaves us little time to wait.

Categories: Boston Red Sox John Lackey

After taking an interest in sabermetrics and statistical analysis Troy began trying to use it to an advantage in fantasy baseball. He started the website RotoSavants.com and also spent time at HardballTimes.com and FantasyPros911.com. After a few years the interest in the Red Sox drew him to start a Red Sox-oriented site (Yawkey Way Academy) with fellow writer Lee Perrault. A short time later he joined Fire Brand. Writer from: December 14, 2009 – July 24, 2010, March 3, 2011 – May 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “Finding the key to Lackey” Subscribe

  1. Fireball Fred June 5, 2010 at 2:27 PM #

    Lackey is basically a fastball-curveball pitcher, like Beckett and Penny. This is not a good thing. If both pitches are working, and you've got another OK pitch off the fastball motion, fine (in fact, Beckett '07); but if anything goes wrong, big trouble. Another way to answer the question, "what's wrong with Lackey?" might be: "He's pitching in the AL East without an actual plus pitch — what would you expect?"

  2. Buzzy June 7, 2010 at 11:47 AM #

    Nice piece, Troy. Fred you miss the point-the point being that Lackey has surprising splits, which is both troubling but also a potentially helpful piece of information and leaves one with some hope. Oh, and maybe you have not noticed, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte,Jeff Niemann,…all pitch in the AL East with mostly FB/CB profiles.