john lackey cubs

Through his first two starts of the year, John Lackey was less than stellar.

Against the Diamondbacks and Reds, Lackey finished 12.2 innings (which isn’t bad), but allowed a total of 14 hits, 4 walks, 2 home runs and 8 earned runs overall.

He wasn’t getting a lot of help with his sequencing (mere 65.8% strand rate) or his BABIP (.333), but when you give up that much solid contact and hard hit balls (47.4% hard hit rate), a 5.68 ERA (4.39 FIP) is to be expected.

But we know that Lackey is a good pitcher and has found a good deal of success at Busch Stadium in the past. So, as last night’s matchup with the Cardinals was approaching, we tentatively expected a big outing from the Cubs’ new right hander.



As it turns out, that’s precisely what we got. But before we dive into the numbers, let’s relive John Lackey’s start against the Cardinals:

Lackey left after pitching 7 innings, having given up no earned runs on just 4 hits, 1 walk and 11 strikeouts. He righted the ship with his strand rate (100%) and his BABIP came back down to a more normal – for him – rate (.286).

His batted ball profile was quite excellent, as well. Over the course of the night, he had a healthy ground ball rate (50%) and kept the line drives to a minimum (14.3%). And although it’s an obviously small sample, take a look at his hit rates from the first two games of the season vs. last nights matchup:

Lackey v. Diamondbacks/Reds:
Soft%: 7.9%
Medium%: 44.7%
Hard: 47.4%
Lackey v. Cardinals:
Soft%: 28.6%
Medium%: 42.9%
Hard: 28.6%
Although the medium hit rate is relatively stable across all three starts, Lackey essentially traded 20% of hard hit balls in his first two games of 2016 for 20% more softly struck balls last night. That’s night and day, and is undoubtedly one of the reasons for the huge success last night. In sum, Lackey was controlling the strike zone, allowing very few hits, keeping the ball on the ground, inducing weak contract and striking batters out at an impressive rate.


But if you were actually watching the game last night, you may have noticed that Lackey wasn’t just striking guys out, he was making Cardinals look downright silly. Take a look at the data from his start here at Brooks Baseball, and you’ll see what I mean.

By the end of the 7th inning, Lackey had thrown a grand total of 91 pitches – 68 of which fell in for strikes (one way or another). But it was the whiffs he was getting that impresses me the most. Of his 68 strikes thrown, 22(!) were of the swinging variety. Here’s how they broke down by pitch type:

  • Fastball: 33 pitches, 23 strikes (3 whiffs)
  • Sinker: 16 pitches, 12 strikes (3 whiffs)
  • Changeup: 9 pitches, 9 strikes (6 whiffs)
  • Slider: 19 pitches 16 strikes (10 whiffs)
  • Curve: 14 pitches, 8 strikes (0 whiffs)

Just look at how well he was using his sinker, changeup, and slider, in particular, last night. Out of a total of 44 pitches, 37 fell in for strikes with 19 coming on a swing and a miss. Every single changeup he threw went for a strike, and a full 2/3 of them came via a whiff! And more than half of his sliders got a swing and miss, too!

Lackey had the Cardinals’ batters fooled, which also helps explain the huge amount of weak contact, as well.



But don’t discount his fastball and its ability to freeze hitters in their tracks. Although there were only 3 whiffs on his heater, Lackey got a strike roughly 70% of the time he threw it. His average velocity sat right in 93 MPH zone, but according to Brooks’ radar gun, he touched 95 MPH on a handful of occasions. And that’s how Lackey will beat you on a given night. He’ll set you up, fooling you with soft stuff, and then sneak a fastball right by you that you weren’t prepared for (sometimes vice versa). Or, when he needs to, he can crank it up and blow it by you whether you were thinking fastball or not.

In his excellent start against the Cardinals yesterday, John Lackey was the pitcher the Cubs knew he could be – even at 37 years old – when they signed him over the offseason. And although it was a real treat to watch, he doesn’t have to be nearly as good every time out to still carry significant value over the next two seasons. Instead, Lackey just has to continue being the quality pitcher he has been throughout his long career, and hey, if he wants to mix in this kind of gem every now and again, that’s all gravy. (Especially against the Cardinals.)

[Brett: By the way, on the title of this post, which I crafted after reading Michael’s drafted post, is definitely true for me. I knew Lackey was good last night as I watched, but daaaaaaaaamn. He was crazy good last night.]




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