Let’s get something out of the way quickly. John Lackey wasn’t ALL that bad last season. He did pitch 215 innings, good for the highest total of any Red Sox hurler since 2005. Innings are valuable, and Lackey supplied the Red Sox with plenty of them.
This shouldn’t be lost on Red Sox fans either. When Lackey arrived, there were durability concerns. He was set to pitch his 31-year old season coming off consecutive seasons in which he missed time to start the year. He only appeared in 51 combined games in 2008 and 2009. The Red Sox brass indicated that all they needed to do was alter his offseason routine a bit and he would be ready to hit the ground running. Performance aside, they got that part right. Whatever tweaks they made led to 33 starts and the 215 innings he contributed.
But Lackey also struggled in the sense that he just wasn’t the same pitcher who suited up for the Angels all those years. Have a look at some concerning trends for Red Sox fans.
The strikeouts are down (and plunging), the walks are up (and rising), Lackey’s 32, and he has four years left on his expensive contract. So what do we do about this? Well, for one, we can hope that this repertoire translates into better luck in 2011. Lackey allowed a .319 BABIP in 2010, considerably north of both league average and his career figure. He also managed to strand just 69.3% of baserunners last year. League average is around 72%. These things can add up, and they did for Lackey in 2010. His ERA was 4.40, his FIP 3.85, his xFIP 4.32.
Why was his xFIP so much worse than his FIP? Well that’s because the former adjusts for HR/FB rate, a figure that was actually kind to Lackey in 2011. He allowed home runs on just 7.3% of fly balls when the league average in 2010 was 9.5%. Nonetheless, with a significantly improved defense at his back, I think we can expect an improvement in Lackey’s ERA, even with the HR/FB regression.
But what about his peripherals? Here’s another chart that tells an ominous tale for Red Sox fans.
That’s his swinging strike induced percentage falling off a cliff right there. Lackey has a really hard time missing bats now. The curious thing about his swinging strike percentage falling so precipitously is that it’s not like he has lost velocity or anything. Have a look at his pitch type and pitch type values numbers. As I said, velocity is the same, but I notice a few changes. For one, he’s throwing fewer curve balls, historically one of his best pitches, and more sliders and change ups. I’m not sure what the reason for this change in his repertoire was, but it sure didn’t seem to help.
And this is where Curt Young comes in. I hope Lackey is able to go back and look at his mix of pitches and how it may have affected him in 2010. It seems that as his ability to induce swinging strikes goes, so goes his overall performance. And since his velocity hasn’t dropped off at all, I have to think there’s hope that he can regain his form. In Part 2 tomorrow, we’ll incorporate some Heat Maps from Fangraphs to look at how he commanded his pitches last year versus previous seasons.