Boston Red Sox: Why John Lackey Is a Lost Cause
John Lackey has been a disappointment. GM Theo Epstein inked him to a monster 5-year, $82.5m deal before the 2010 season and has yet to see any sort of return on his investment.
Lackey himself is the first to point out that he led the team in quality starts last season, but it was a terrible year. He somehow managed a 14-11 record but had a 4.40 ERA and a WHIP above 1.4. Had he and Felix Hernandez swapped teams, Lackey would have struggled to win five games.
His defenders said we would see the real John Lackey this season, and that last year he was just acclimating to his new surroundings.
Yet, somehow, he has been worse. Before he went on the DL on May 12, he had a 2-5 record and an 8.01 earned run average. Theo will hope and pray he bounces back. Here we look at why he never will.
He Was Never an Ace
The biggest reason Sox fans generally hate JD Drew is that he makes $14 million a year. If he made half that, Red Sox Nation would not be on his back so much.
Lackey faces a similar problem. His contract, since he made $18.7m last year, means he will earn a little under $16m each year from now until 2014.
That kind of money is fine for Roy Halladay or CC Sabathia. But John Lackey? He was never worth that.
If we ignore his one good year (2007), his highest win total was 14, which he managed in 2004, 2005 and 2010 (if that last one does not illustrate how pointless the win statistic is, nothing will). His ERA has been below 3.50 just twice, and he has had a below-average ERA+ three times (four if you count 2011).
We all know he was dire in 2010. The worrying thing is that was not even his worst season.
This might be the biggest reason he will never be the pitcher Theo Epstein dreamed of: he never was.
Lackey came third in Cy Young voting in 2007, when he led the league in ERA with a career-best 3.01.
Since then, it has been a steady decline, with his number increasing each year. 3.75 in 2008, then 3.83, 4.40 last year and 8.01 so far in 2011. You could argue that it is a small sample size, but it is actually half of his career.
His ERA+ shows a definite curve, improving each year. If we ignore is rookie season, his ERA+ got better every year he was in the Majors, to 2007, and has been in steady decline since then. It is the exact same story with his WHIP.
Numbers can lie quite often, but here, they do not. Lackey is simply declining as a pitcher.
Some of that may come down to injury.
He missed time in 2008 and 2009 with elbow issues. It worried the Sox enough that they included a vesting option in his contract whereby they can bring him back in 2015 for the league minimum if he has missed significant time with that injury.
Presently, he is on the DL again with a right elbow strain. The Red Sox have said it is not related to the ’08 and ’09 injuries, but we do have to be a little skeptical about official statements.
Struggles at Fenway
It has been well-documented (and was discussed at length when Boston signed him two years ago) that he has struggled at Fenway Park. While that is not an issue for an Angels pitcher, as he might only make one start there a season, it most definitely is a problem when you pitch for the Red Sox.
In 30 career starts in the Back Bay, Lackey has pitched to a 5.17 ERA with a 1.53 WHIP. Opponents are hitting almost .300 against him. At ballparks where he has made more than one start, he only has worse numbers at the Trop and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
He came within two outs of a no-hitter at Fenway in 2008, but generally he has been awful.
Struggles Against the AL East
Let’s take out games against the Sox, since, unfortunately, he no longer faces them.
Against Baltimore, he has a good 3.05 ERA, but the Yankees and Blue Jays have hit him hard. He has a losing record and a 4.68 earned run average in 20 starts against New York, and 4-6 record with a 5.07 ERA against Toronto.
That said, though, for all his poor performances at both Fenway and the Trop, he actually has decent numbers against the Rays, with an 11-4 record and 3.75 ERA.
Compare that to his ERAs against his old AL West foes: Oakland: 2.86. Seattle: 3.62. Texas is an aberration at 6.07, though.
It is fine to struggle against the Yanks and Jays when you see them perhaps twice a year. Even if you get lit up, you go home to the West Coast again and feast on the Athletics. The Red Sox play 72 games a year against divisional rivals, and Lackey is just awful against them.