Like it or not, John Lackey will be starting for the Boston Red Sox in 2013. After missing the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, it’s up for debate as to how he’ll bounce back—if at all.
Lackey signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Red Sox during the 2009 offseason and hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. In his first season in Boston, Lackey won just 14 games in 33 starts, posting a 4.40 ERA in 215 innings of work. It only got worse from there, as he went on to go 12-12 with a 6.41 ERA in 160 innings during 2011.
Once the 2011 season came to a close, Lackey went for an MRI on his throwing elbow that showed he would need Tommy John Surgery, according to ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald.
“John Lackey pitched through circumstances this year that I don’t think any of us can fully understand, and he got beat up for it a little bit,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “This guy was dealing with stuff both on the field and off the field that were very difficult, and he showed tremendous toughness pitching through that.”
Lackey missed all of 2012 rehabbing his surgically-repaired elbow, but he did toss a few simulated innings and also pitched in a game against instructional league hitters.
“He’s going into spring training as a healthy starting pitcher, Cherington told WEEI via ESPN Boston. “We’ve seen in the past guys coming off that surgery where it can take a little time to not just get back on the mound but get sharp again.”
The Red Sox have to be hoping that Lackey returns to the mound in better shape than Daisuke Matsuzaka—who missed most of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery as well—did last season. Matsuzaka, who once won 18 games for the Red Sox, went 1-7 with a 8.28 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch in 2012.
Boston cannot afford to have Lackey pitch as terribly as Matsuzaka did, especially since the Red Sox don’t currently have many backup options. As it stands now, Boston really only has four true starting pitchers, and while minor leaguers could be called up for a spot start or two, the young impact starters aren’t ready for Fenway Park just yet.
As Cherington pointed out to WEEI, Adam Wainwright is an example of a pitcher who came off Tommy John surgery, struggled at first and then had a successful second half of the season. In 17 first-half starts, he was 7-8 with a 4.56 ERA in 102.2 innings. In 15 second-half starts, he was 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 96 innings.
There’s now a long list of pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery and pitched well, and another list of those who have had the procedure and pitched poorly. It’s nearly impossible to determine how a pitcher will pitch once he’s returned, but assumptions can be made.
“My expectation is we’ll see a very good version of John Lackey in 2013,” said Cherington. “But it can take some time to not just get back on the mound pitching in games but to get back to being sharp again.”
Can Lackey live up to Cherington’s expectations for next season? He’s definitely capable of putting up good numbers, but time will tell if he can finally put together a season worth $15.25 million.
Lackey was once the ace of the Los Angeles Angels, and there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t be capable of replicating similar numbers in Boston in 2013. He needs to rely less on his fastball, which opponents had a .303 batting average against in 2011, and more on his slider and changeup, off which they hit .239 and .294, respectively.
If Lackey can have a few solid outings in spring training, get his confidence up and start the season with a bang, we could be in store for a season where we aren’t pulling our hair out every time he takes the mound.
Projected Statistics: 11-8 (28 Starts), 4.13 ERA, 185 Innings Pitched, 139 Strikeouts