Sorry for the delay on this. With the Pettitte news, I decided to write something up on him rather than post Part 2 of my Lackey analysis. It gave me an opportunity to act like I wasn’t thrilled that the Yankees have about 55% of a Big League starting rotation.
But before we get too cocky, it’s important to remember that ~$50 million worth of Red Sox pitching wasn’t very good at all last year, and all three of them have aged another year. In Lackey’s case, we can take some comfort in his peripheral trends as the year wore on. Below are his K/9 and K/BB numbers by month, with a trend line added in the second graph.
Good stuff, right? Maybe he’s got this all figured out. And just to reinforce his in-season improvement, here’s a look at his FIP and xFIP numbers.
As a season to forget dragged on and on, Lackey got better. I have to admit, I was too blinded by the brutal end to take note, but Lackey’s improvement caught Marc’s attention in late August, and his performance would only get better in September. Lackey’s strong finish offers hope as we head into 2011.
Still, an August/September uptick constitutes an awfully small sample and as we think about how Lackey might pitch in 2011, we can’t sweep April through July under the rug. He wasn’t very good for much of the season, and one thing that jumps out is Lackey’s performance against lefthanded hitters in 2010. He allowed an .802 OPS against lefties last year, versus .737 for his career (the career number includes his inflated 2010 figure). Part of that was probably luck and the spotty 2010 Red Sox defense behind him. He allowed a .340 BABIP to lefties in 2010. But he also seemed to lack command, a phenomenon borne out by Fangraphs’ latest bit of awesomeness, Heat Maps!
Here’s a look at how he controlled his fastball against lefthanded batters in 2007-2010. The more color intensity, the more times he threw his pitch there. The look is from the catcher’s perspective, or behind home plate.
From 2007 to 2009, it looks like Lackey used the heater to pound the outer half of the strike zone against lefties. Check out the red on the corner itself in both 2008 and 2009. In 2010, it looks like he was all over the place, or at least less able to paint the outside consistently. Go on and check out the rest of his heat maps for yourself. There will be some other interesting revelations, for sure. For one, I also noticed that he was throwing his curveball down, outside of the zone, and in to lefties less often. It appears to have been a nice out pitch for him in the past. He was much more up and in the zone with his curve in 2010.
With improved consistency and renewed confidence in his repertoire and sequencing, Lackey should be fine. If I were the Red Sox and particularly new pitching coach Curt Young, I would be investing lots of time with the Big Fella reviewing what’s worked for him throughout his career, and what did not in 2010. Same goes for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. Lackey’s stuff and velocity seem just fine. But his control and command will need more consistency in 2011 for the Red Sox to see better ROI on the largest free agent starting pitching investment they’ve ever made.