Any insight as to how Lilly has managed this rather compelling transformation? It looks like “more sliders, fewer curves”, but is that all there is to it? Going from a consistent 2:1 K/BB guy to a 3-4:1 guy is a huge transformation. If it is for real, he’s gone from one of the most average guys (average is good, don’t get me wrong), to a possible top of the rotation guy – he’s been one of the top 30-40 starters this year.
Are there numbers on how often each pitch was thrown for a strike dating back to his American League days? Ted Lilly making a living as a strike-thrower is just wrong somehow after watching him give 30-35% of his baserunners a free pass (walk, HBP) for years (only 20% this year).
Unfortunately the strike rate per pitch data is from the pitchf/x so only goes back to 2007. It does look like the increase in slider/cutter helps since he can get that pitch in the zone at such a huge rate.
As a Cubs fan I’ve seen Lilly pitch a number of times and sometimes it’s hard to tell how he has the success he does. But mixing 65 MPH curveballs in the zone must make his fastball look pretty good and keep people off-balance. The best part about Lilly is his name is really Theodore Roosevelt Lilly, and he’s a hard-nose ballplayer. Him tackling Molina at the plate last year was classic.
It makes the case that throwing the high fastball makes his big slow curve more effective. I also recall an article on this site that said his fastball was really effective at getting whiffs (can’t find it… it was about someone else, and listed Lilly as one of a handful of pitchers with a more valuable fastball by pitch run shares), and my memory (which you shouldn’t necessarily trust) tells me that he often uses the fastball as a strikeout pitch, setting it up with breaking balls. So he may use the slow curve to help his fastball, which doesn’t seem all that impressive on its own.
Another thing I’d say about Lilly, based on the numbers, is that his fastball might be better than it looks on TV. He doesn’t have a ton of velocity or horizontal movement, so the pitch looks kind of blah from behind, but he gets a couple inches more “rise” than average. It might often be just enough to keep batters from making contact. I compare him in this way with fellow Cub Sean Marshall, a lefty with a similar pitch mixture but less rise on the fastball (their fastballs have similar velocity and horizontal movement, although Sean is in the pen now and throwing a little harder). It seems to me that batters have an easier time fouling off Marshall’s fastball, and that he needs to go to the breaking stuff to put hitters away.