Leery of Ted Lilly? by David Golebiewski July 5, 2010 Taking on the Cincinnati Reds on the Fourth of July, Ted Lilly got lit up. The 34-year-old lefty was lashed for nine runs in 6.2 frames, serving up four home runs. But, even after that drubbing, Lilly is seemingly enjoying another quality season. After opening season on the DL while recovering from off-season surgeries on his left shoulder and left knee, Lilly has a 3.76 ERA in 93.1 innings pitched. Look a little deeper, though, and there are concerns about his waning ability to fool hitters. Like usual, Lilly is doing a fantastic job of throwing strikes. Placing 54.6% of his pitches within the strike zone (47.2% MLB average this season), Theodore Roosevelt is getting a first pitch strike 62.4% of the time (58.6% MLB average). He’s walking just 2.12 batters per nine innings. However, Lilly isn’t inducing as many whiffs this season. His swinging strike rate, which sat around 9.5-9.6% over the past two seasons, is 7.6% in 2010 (the MLB average has ranged from 8.3-8.6% over that time frame). Lilly’s contact rate was slightly below the 81% MLB average in ’08 and ’09, but batters are connecting 84.1% of the time this season. Considering the tame velocity on Lilly’s fastball, you might assume that hitters rarely come up empty against the pitch. But that isn’t the case, as Lilly’s “heater” has generally displayed excellent whiff rates. In 2010, the whiff rate on his fastball is still above-average, but not to the same extent as in ’08 and ’09. Lilly’s low-80’s slider, slooow curve and high-70’s change haven’t induced many whiffs in recent years, and batters are missing those pitches even less this year. He’s throwing strikes with all his offerings, but he’s not getting hitters to come up empty: (Pitch F/X Data from TexasLeaguers.com) Given these trends, it’s not surprising that Lilly’s falling short of his projected K rate — ZiPS had a 7.54 K/9 pre-season punch out rate and CHONE predicted 7.75 K/9, but Lilly is whiffing 6.17 batters per nine innings. His fastball is averaging 85.9 MPH this season, a tick to two ticks slower than in recent seasons. The pitch has gained some speed in recent outings, though: Lilly’s average fastball velocity by month (Baseball Info Solutions Pitch Data) April: 85.1 MPH May: 85.2 MPH June: 86.5 MPH (July’s velocity is not yet available, but TexasLeaguers’ Pitch F/X data had him sitting at 86.7 MPH). Lilly’s current xFIP is 4.64, his highest mark since a 2005 season cut short by shoulder and biceps injuries. His .249 BABIP is fifth-lowest among qualified MLB starters. It’s true, Lilly has a career .284 BABIP. He’s an extreme fly ball hurler (32.4 GB% this season, 34.3 GB% career), and while fly balls are far more pernicious overall, fly balls do have a lower BABIP than grounders. Lilly also gets a lot of BABIP-killing pop ups — 14.1% for his career, and an insane 21.5% this season (7-8% MLB average). But even so, it’s likely that his BABIP is closer to .300 than .250 in the second half. Perhaps Lilly’s still rounding into form after an off-season spent rehabbing, and his recent (relative) increase in fastball velocity will lead to improved whiff rates. Hopefully that’s the case — unless Lilly starts missing more lumber, his ERA is going to rise.