After John Lackey’s awful season for the Boston Red Sox in 2011, featuring an ERA+ of just 67 – followed by a year off for recovery from Tommy John surgery at the age of 33 – there was widespread skepticism that he would ever return to anything resembling his earlier form. But in each of the four seasons since he has been at least decent – ERA+ of 117 and 102 in 2013 and 2014, respectively – or very good – ERA+ of 142 in 2015. In 2016, at the age of 37, the righthander put up an ERA of 3.35 – ERA+ of 120 – over 188.1 innings, making him well above average in the National League. But in this year’s postseason he has been less successful, recording an ERA of 5.63 in 8 innings over two games.
What he throws: Four-seam fastball (“FF”), two-seam fastball (“FT”), cutter (“FC”), curve (“CU”) and changeup (“CH”). His cutter is unusually slow, and in many ways it is more slider-like than the typical cutter:
Pitch usage and trends: Lackey depends mainly on his three types of fastballs, with his curve making up just 10.6% of his pitches. His changeup is used just 5.5% of the time – and in several games this season he didn’t use it at all. His average four-seam fastball velocity of 92.3 mph is about 1 mph slower than the average right-handed pitcher, but he sustained his velocity throughout the season:
Lackey throws more curves and changeups to left-handed batters, and relies upon his cutter more to right-handed batters (30.7% vs 18.1%). He also prefers to use his cutter when ahead in the count; unusually, he goes to his curve much more when behind (21.0% vs 4.7% when ahead):
Pitch value: Lackey’s cutter rates as one of the most effective pitches in all of baseball (as judged by total bases given up per 100 pitches thrown). His four-seam fastball is also somewhat better than average, as well as his changeup – although the latter is slightly more likely than average to be taken for a ball. Again unusually, his curve is his least ball-prone pitch – explaining why he prefers it when behind in the count – even though the pitch is considerably worse than average as terms of total bases per 100 pitches:
Pitch location: The charts below show the typical location of Lackey’s pitches. His four- and two-seam fastballs tend to be outside to both right- and left-handed batters. However, the relatively broad pattern of pitches shows he is more likely to customize his fastball location to a particular batter. His cutter is very likely to end up below the strike zone, as well as inside to a left-handed batter or outside to a righty. His curve and changeup to LHB typically are just inside the strike zone, and well inside the zone for RHB. To righties, his changeup is likely to be on the inside edge of the zone, while the curve is more likely to be in the outer third: