John Lackey’s Cubs debut didn’t quite quite as we’d hoped it would, and, although he did manage to give the Cubs six innings – the latter three of which were scoreless – his final line left him on the hook for six earned runs on eight hits and a walk. He’ll have better days.

For those of us watching the game last night, it seemed like from thing one – literally, from the very first pitch – Lackey’s command was off. Specifically, it looked like his fastball was consistently up in and at the top of the zone, yielding a bunch of hard contact.

No pitcher wants that result, and, indeed, only a small handful of pitchers make it their business to live at the top of the zone – typically fly ball pitchers and extreme strikeout pitchers. Lackey is neither of those thing, and instead is an almost perfectly average batted-ball-type pitcher – his groundball rates the last three years are about league average, as are his fly ball rates and strikeout rates.

Like a typical pitcher, then, Lackey doesn’t see too much success when he’s pitching at the top of the zone. Check out opposing batters’ slugging percentage against him in the last three years, based on zone (data from Brooks Baseball):

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No real surprise there: when the ball is put in play on pitches in the middle of the zone and up, and even slightly above the zone, it’s doing serious damage.

So, then, it’s also not surprising to see that Lackey typically doesn’t work up there much. Again, from the past three years:

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Again, like a typical pitcher, Lackey tries to keep the ball down. He has success that way. There are no grand mysteries here.

So what happened last night? Again, no big mystery, just a lot of pitches up, and a lot of damage done on them:

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Hopefully it was just a temporary blip in his command, happening in a ballpark (and against a lineup) where it can really hurt you.

It’ll be something to keep an eye on for Lackey’s next start.




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