Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meet John Lackey

You knew this was coming: It's been a couple of months since we had reason to pull out the BrooksBaseball.net pitching charts, and the anticipated signing by the Red Sox of John Lackey is as good a reason as any to dig in.

Lackey has been widely compared to Josh Beckett thanks to their eerily similar career numbers and their eerily similar stubborn Texas demeanor. But they're not quite so similar as pitchers.

Here's what to look for from Lackey when he's good...
* His fastball tops out at 94 miles an hour with a little bit of sink on it, and he'll throw it on both sides of the plate.
* His curveball and his slider blend together a little bit, with his curveball tending to be a put-away pitch at the bottom of the strike zone:

* He's not going to give free passes away. Only three times last season did he walk more than three hitters in a single start, the same number of times he pitched at least five innings and didn't walk anyone.
* He's a fly-ball pitcher. In each of his best eight starts this season as measured by Win Probability Added, he allowed 10 or more fly balls. He incuded 10 or more ground balls in only three of those starts.

... and when he's not so good:
* He's not throwing his fastball often enough. In a terrific start in early September against Seattle, Lackey threw 68 fastballs -- and 19 sliders, 21 curveballs and six cutters. In a lousy start in late August against Detroit, Lackey threw 58 fastballs -- and 12 sliders, 29 curveballs and 10 cutters.
* He's leaving his curveball up in the strike zone:

* He's missing the strike zone by quite a bit. The above two charts are fairly similar, but the first chart shows a pitcher who's around the plate even when he's missing. The second chart shows a pitcher who's wild, especially up, when he's missing.

Lackey doesn't have a 97-mile-per-hour fastball like Beckett does, but he does have elite command and control. If he can maintain that command and control into his mid-30s, he ought to do just fine.

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