Cutter Stands for Hittable

John Lackeyphoto © 2011 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)I feel like John Lackey just won’t let me do anything else as once again he is the biggest question mark in the starting rotation right now. His ERA stands at an awful 8.01 and he has almost as many walks as strikeouts right now. I noticed in 2010 that Lackey had begun to throw more cutters, but wondered was this a change in the algorithm on the Pitch f/x?

If you go to FanGraphs.com stat page for Lackey they have no cutters listed this year or last year, but any other Pitch f/x has him at 30-40 percent this year and last.  So is he actually throwing a cutter or is he just having trouble with his four seam fastball?

I used to think he was working on a cutter, but now with more than a year of data I think he is throwing a fourseam fastball that has little to no horizontal movement.  Here is a pair of graphs to display what I mean.  The first is all of his data from 2009 and the second is from 2011 so far:

Lackey 2009 from texasleaguers.com

Lackey 2011 from texasleaguers.com

There is a lot wrong here, but first lets say what we’re seeing here.  This graph is a visual understanding of how much the pitch moves horizontally versus vertically on it’s way to home plate.  It has no input on how good a pitch is or if it was a strike.  The key to these graphs is consistency.  You want a pitcher to be throwing the same pitches over and over with similar movement.

As you can see that is not the case for any of Lackey’s pitches, but this “cutter” just looks like his fastball choices have moved from close to the -10 horizontal to the 0.  The cutter has even moved into positive movement, which should be expected if he is throwing a real “cutter”, but looking at 2010 would make me question it.

Lackey 2010 from texasleaguers.com

If I showed most analysts these three graphs they would be pretty surprised to learn it was the same guy.  There is no doubt he is throwing very differently in 2010 and then again in 2011, but why and what is he throwing?

The cutter is thrown with a slightly off center four seam grip, so it looks like a fastball, but due to increased rotation it has a different horizontal movement.  I give this definition because according to TexasLeaguers.com his “cutter” has less spin than his four seamer.  That is not a cutter by definition and seems more like his four seamer is failing to get his normal fastball movement.

Unfortunately I can’t get linear weights for the cutter since FanGraphs don’t classify his cutter in the stats page.  This means I can’t tell if this is really his trouble pitch, but his fastball and change up are both negative run values in 2010 and 2011.  His change up has always been poor, but the fastball is usually a solid pitch for him.

There isn’t much to say Lackey is actually throwing a cutter, but just a straighter fastball.  Like it sounds a straight fastball is much easier to hit and here is a visual from overhead of what it looks like. and below is a view of location at home plate.

Wow.  That is an awful pitch.  A straight 90 mile per hour fastball with no horizontal movement and it finishes mostly over the plate and up in the zone.  That is a pitch that is going to get strikes, but sure isn’t going to get whiffs.  He’s going to give up contact and solid contact at that.

You then add in the struggles due to velocity that I found earlier in April and you can see that Lackey is nothing but trouble right now.  If I was the Red Sox I would be glad this is something you can work on, but be concerned that this is now the second year of struggling with pitch movement and location.

This year the movement looks really bad though and the results show that.  I don’t see anything in his release point to say arm injury, but for someone who missed April several years in a row it makes me wonder.  Lackey is not as bad as his 8.01 ERA, but even his FIP stands at 5.30 and would be a disappointment.  He needs to work on the fastball and if he can’t get his 2009 movement he must at least locate it down in the zone to get better results.

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.

5 Responses to “Cutter Stands for Hittable” Subscribe

  1. firebrandfan May 16, 2011 at 1:45 PM #

    He's starting to look like a chump in the AL East. I'm worried. He said something the other day about how 'everything in [his] life is crap right now'. That's a… concern. Hopefully the Sox brass had their chat and said the right things to get this guy's head where it should be.

  2. Tom P May 16, 2011 at 3:37 PM #

    Troy – I think the time has come to get off Lackey. Peter Abraham posted an email he received from a fan this weekend. I trust you read it. How would you deal with his off-field problems? Do you really think your analysis can tell us what is wrong with Lackey and that the off-field issues are not affecting him? I am not a Lackey fan and never have been but the Red Sox fans and bloggers have gone too far this time. Leave the man alone.

    • TroyPatterson May 16, 2011 at 3:53 PM #

      Wait a second. First I was unaware that Lackey had personal problems and I do believe that is likely a huge reson for his struggles. I wish his wife the best.

      Secondly I have a very hard time believing that anything I have written has ever a) caused Lackey to bat an eye or b) insult him as a person or his family.

      Tell me one thing in my analysis or writing that "has gone to far". Even if I had known about his wife before last night I would have still written this article.

  3. evanbrunell May 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM #

    I'm going to concur with Troy. Tom, I think you're reading way too much into this. Not only was this article not an attack on Lackey, it was a pretty straightforward analysis of how his cutter is performing too much like his fastball, and poorly, too.

    You're making a mountain out of a molehill here.

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