Lilly’s Fly Balls

Last night Ted Lilly won a meaningless game for the Cubs. I like looking at players who succeed in an extreme or abnormal manner and Lilly is such a player. If you think the three things a pitcher has most control over are walks, strikeouts and batted ball type (grounders being good since they cannot be HRs), then Lilly succeeds by getting an above average number of strikeouts and doing a great job preventing walks, in spite of his huge number of flyballs. Over the last three years Lilly is second to only Jered Weaver with the highest FB% (48%) and the lowest GB% percentage (33%).

He has always gotten a good number of strikeouts and given up lots of fly balls, but since 2007 (his time as a Cub) he has drastically cut down on his walks making him a quite valuable pitcher over that time.


Lilly throws a four-seam fastball, a slider/cutter, a big breaking curve and a changeup. He throws the fastball about 50% of the time and the slider/cutter over 25%. He locates both in the zone very often (59% of the time for the fastball and 62% for the slider/cutter), which explains his very good walk numbers. The location of his fastball is way up in the zone.


Only 25% of the balls in play from his fastball are grounders, the overwhelming culprit for his tiny overall ground ball percentage.

Lilly is going to give up lots of HRs, but he can make it work by limiting baserunners with lots strikeouts and few walks. Long-term free agent contracts for pitchers can often be bad news, and the disastrous ones are the most publicized. Lilly represents a successful signing. In the 2007 off-season he signed a four year (2007 to 2010) 40 million dollars contact with the Cubs. He has already provided those 40 million dollars worth of value, making the rest of this year and all of next gravy.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

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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).