Lackey gets the nod as the best of the No. 4 starting pitchers in spite of his tepid performance last season. He had regularly posted decent numbers with the Los Angeles Angels from 2005-09 before signing with the Red Sox as a free agent before the 2010 season.
His career in a Boston uniform got off to a brutal start. He showed up in Fort Myers, FL, in less-than-ideal physical condition. And whether it was related to his physical conditioning or whether he experienced an adjustment period, he struggled against the heightened competition in the eastern division throughout the first half of last season.
But he turned things around after the all-star game. His record (5-7) and ERA (4.30) were not especially attractive in the second half, but his peripherals are illustrative of significant improvement. He reduced his WHIP by a full quarter of a runner (from 1.54 to 1.29), dramatically increased his strikeout-to-walk ratio (from 1.7 to 2.8) and posted an xERA of just 3.54.
For fantasy owners: While many of the haters have already declared that Lackey should be avoided in this year’s auctions and drafts, I say you should use their opinion to your advantage. He is positioned to build on the success he had in the second half of last season.
He arrived at spring training in fantastic condition, having dedicated himself to more cardiovascular work and dropping a dozen pounds. Additionally, it should be noted his heightened second-half ERA last year was not illustrative of how well he pitched – it was compiled while he posted a strand rate of just 67 percent during that period. Assuming an adjustment toward his career average of 73 percent, his second-half ERA should have been closer to 3.60… and that is where I believe he is headed in 2011.
Projection: 16-17 wins, 3.60-3.70 ERA and 1.30-1.35 WHIP. Plan your auction/draft strategy accordingly.