On July 26th, 2015, the Cincinnati Reds dealt Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals for a package of prospects. A trade was inevitable for the team struggling to stay relevant in the NL Central as the deadline approached rapidly. The Reds received a solid haul of prospects in return for their ace, including John Lamb. Lamb was in the midst of an impressive year in the minors, featuring a K/9 of 9.16 and an ERA of 2.67 in AAA for the Omaha Royals, and after a three game stint in the Reds’ affiliate, he was sent to work in the bigs. After his first two starts, I wanted to give Lamb a dedicated watch and get a good feel for what the young hurler had to offer. This is John Lamb’s GIF Breakdown from his August 25th start against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As always, let’s begin by looking at his strikezone plot for the evening:
What you will quickly pick up is that Lamb focused pitching down and to his glove side. This approach makes sense for Lamb, as his Cutter features excellent horizontal movement that can jam right-handers frequently. His Fastball, while often avoiding the heart of the strikezone, seemed sporadic as he struggled to command it through the game. He paired his Four-Seamer on the inside corner with a Cutter that travels a little farther inside can be deceptive and induce weak contact. His Changeup didn’t fair too well in this start, though, as most landed square in the middle of the zone instead of nibbling near the corners and at knee height. It’s not a poor plot, but there is much to improve upon in future starts.
Now let’s take a look at his pitches individually across the evening:
Fastball: 57.7% thrown, Average 91.5 MPH, -4.5 Runs Above Average
From early in the outing it was apparent that Lamb was having difficulty getting his Fastball over the plate, leading him to get behind many batters (he held a 14/24 first-pitch strike rate). He attempted to nibble around the edges, but couldn’t find his release point, leading to pitches that either came too far inside or sailed high. Notice where catcher Tucker Barnhart’s glove starts and where the pitch end up to Enrique Hernández:
It doesn’t surprise me that Lamb had trouble commanding his Fastball. He has a 3/4 arm slot and relies on slinging the ball across his body instead of having his arm travel north-south through his motion. Since Lamb is positioned on the left side of the rubber, throwing the ball on the outside corner to right-handers is a simpler task, as his whole body is moving towards his location. However, when aiming glove side – as Lamb did most of the night – it’s less of a straight path for Lamb, forcing him to precisely time his release as his arm travels west to east across his hip. It’s more of a feel pitch that is difficult to consistently command and Lamb never got comfortable with the pitch in this outing. So what did he do when he was behind in the count? He headed outside:
It’s an easier spot to hit, and Lamb is able to make a pitcher’s pitch at 3-1 to keep Scott Van Slyke at the plate. It’s not Lamb’s ideal plan as it it doesn’t set up his Cutter nearly as well, but it was a necessary adjustment to make. He later began focusing away when ahead in the count as he continued to miss on inside Fastballs:
Keep in mind, though, that even these pitches are borderline and Lamb wasn’t able to nibble effectively. There’s a major difference between being wild and “too cute” where the later results in walks from pitches just outside of the zone. This issue mixed with his inconsistency hitting the inside corner led to Lamb’s struggles.
Cutter: 19.4% thrown, Average 87.4 MPH, 1.0 Runs Above Average
Here’s the pitch that allows Lamb to accumulate strikeouts and induce defensive at-bats. Lamb throws an excellent Cutter with great horionztal movement that seemingly never stops riding in on the hands of right-handed hitters, while fading away from left-handers with ease. It’s easily the best pitch in his repertoire and he can use it at any time. For example, he can get ahead for strike one:
Use it as a putaway pitch against right-handers as it rides under their hands:
And he can rely on it to battle back when behind in the count:
It surprises me that he only throws 19.4% Cutters during his starts when it’s far and away his best tool to make hitters uncomfortable. He also showed better command of the pitch than his Fastball, and even when it missed its location, it had enough movement to prevent hard contact. The pitch can be even deadlier when paired with solid Fastball command, as the late movement will keep hitters guessing to where each pitch will end up. Given that his other secondary offerings leave much to be desired, it will be imperative for Lamb to establish both pitches early in starts to dominant on the mound.
Changeup: 15.0% thrown, Average 75.5 MPH, -0.6 Runs Above Average
While Lamb’s Fastball command led the way for a tough outing, it was his Changeup that did the most damage. He only threw seven among his 108 pitches as he realized it was doing more harm than good. Just look at this Changeup he threw to Yasiel Puig:
This was a meatball at 76 MPH right down the heart of the plate that Puig crushed for an RBI double. One look at it and you’d expect it to be at the bottom of Lamb’s repertoire, but it surprisingly is used 15.0% of the time. Lamb knew that he could throw the pitch better and continued trusting it when he needed a good pitch, but it ended up just hurting him more:
That would be a two-run HR from Justin Turner as Lamb left a Changeup up in the zone ready to be crushed. From Lamb’s history I gather that he has a better slow pitch than the one featured during this start, but it’s discouraging to see a terrible floor for such a relied upon pitch in Lamb’s repertoire.
Curveball: 7.8% thrown, Average 68.9 MPH, -0.6 Runs Above Average
Lamb’s most traditional breaking pitch is his Curveball, which he features more as a “show-me” pitch than a weapon deeper into counts. He exclusively threw his hook to left-handers and with good results. In fact, despite not relying on the pitch frequently to attack hitters, he was able to generate a few whiffs, like this 0-1 pitch to Adrian Gonzalez:
And this beauty to Chase Utley for the strikeout.
There is potential for Lamb to sneak in the big breaker a little more, but it doesn’t have enough bite to be mixed in frequently against right-handers, especially when coming in at sub-70 MPH. He’ll continue to use it as a change of pace pitch and not as a potent weapon through his outings.
Final Line: 5.0 IP, 3 ER, 5 Hits, 3 BBs, 6 Ks.
It’s a mixed bag from Lamb right now. While his Cutter can be a devastating weapon for batters on both sides of the plate, he needs to pair it with better Fastball command to be consistently effective. His Changeup, while statistically a better pitch than during this outing, seems to lack the polish to be a mixed often in his repertoire. His Curveball does provide a much needed alternate look, but it doesn’t have the bite to be a frequent weapon. There is upside for Lamb to eat up innings quickly while providing a hefty dosage of strikeouts, but it will take some time for him to become a dependable asset.
As always, I’ll leave you with a pitch that encapsulates a heavy focus of our featured pitcher. Here John Lamb spots a Cutter down and in to Scott Van Slyke for a well deserved strikeout: