photo © 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:
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.
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.