Why John Lackey Is Comeback Player of the Year

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Why John Lackey Is Comeback Player of the Year
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
John Lackey has undergone a metamorphosis and is pitching like his vintage self.

If you had asked me who would head the 2013 Boston Red Sox rotation last offseason, I probably would've chosen Daisuke Matsuzaka before thinking of John Lackey.

But Lackey has been a huge part of Boston's success this year. His 3.21 ERA is the lowest of all (healthly) Boston starters, as is his 1.21 WHIP. Boston currently leads the American League East, and Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe had this to say on July 20 about what the righty has meant to the team:

To qualify as a "comeback player," one needs to have been an established major leaguer with a track record of success, a subsequent fall from grace and an eventual rebound.

I considered both position players and pitchers for this accolade, and while Scott Kazmir and Kendrys Morales were a close second and third, Lackey's resurgence and downright dominance in a rotation thought to be led by Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester cannot be ignored.

Lackey finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2002. After making his first All-Star Game in 2007, he  finished third in Cy Young voting after pitching to a 19-9 record and 3.01 ERA for the Angels.

Disaster later ensued. In his last full season before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012, Lackey was a complete mess. He finished 2011 with the worst stats of his career: a 6.41 ERA, a 1.62 WHIP and a 1.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the BoSox.

He was cooked. But now, he's working to erase that nightmare from our memories:

In an interview with Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald, Dustin Pedroia had this to say about his teammate: “It seems like every start he goes out there and is getting better and better. He’s been huge for us all year."

While Lackey's 7-9 record isn't awe-inspiring, it's more of a Cliff Lee-2012 situation than a Joe Blanton-any-year-ever situation.

Mike Cole of NESN wrote on Tuesday that while victories have been hard to come by for the righty (fourth-worst run support in the AL), "Lackey’s 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings is his best rate since 2005, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.37 is by far the best of his career, eclipsing his career-high rate of 3.44 in 2007."

Neil Weinberg of FanGraphs attributes Lackey's miraculous rebound not to increased velocity, but to improved "vertical break," which has been causing more strikeouts and ground-ball outs.

In the absence of Buchholz, the BoSox desperately needed someone to step up in their rotation if they wanted to compete in the toughest division in baseball. Lackey has shocked us all and by being that guy.

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