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Thursday, May 17, 2007

LACK ATTACK! 

John Lackey pitched six strong shutout innings last night, on the heels of a superb performance against Texas last week. Over the course of the two games, he only gave up three runs in just over 14 innings, all of which came in his last inning at Rangers Ballpark.

Both starts were typified by something I've been harping on for years: John trusted his fastball, attacked the strike zone, and got outs. Too often in his past, he's started goofing around with his breaking ball, trying to get strikeouts, and throwing hitters too many lifelines.

Though obviously his slider/curve/slurve/bender/sweeper/whatever is a killer pitch, and you need to be able to throw it with confidence even when down in the count, I've often thought that he leans too far in that direction.

But in the last two starts, this has not been the case. He ascribed this, in post-game interview after the Texas game, as a result of the Angels giving him a big lead. I didn't see if he had an interview after last night's game, though I doubt the 2-0 lead he was given really changed his approach. I think he just saw the success he had against Texas and decided to keep going with it. It's almost certainly throwing opposing hitters, especially division foes who have seen him the most, for a bit of a loop.

You can see this strike-zone-pummeling in the statistical record; in the last two games, John has thrown nearly 67% of his pitches for strikes, compared to 64% for his first seven starts. Is that statistically significant? I have no idea, to be honest. But it does comport to subjective evaluation.

This new attack philosophy has had a slight negative impact on his strikeouts. In his last two games, Lackey has struck out one every 4.9 batters, where in his first seven, it was one every 4.4. But his walks have gone down in a big way, to one every 27 batters instead of one every 15.9. As such, his strikeout-to-walk ratio moved from a superb 3.58:1 in his first seven starts to an even better 5.5:1 in the last two.

These are all extraordinary numbers, and as good as he is right now, we shouldn't expect him to keep this up. But, truthfully, I wouldn't be surprised, either. Big John seems at the top of his game, is constantly getting a better and better idea of what he's doing, and has very good stuff and a fiery intensity.

He's got a ways to go before he's the best pitcher in Halo history out of Texas, but he's doing the legacy proud.

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