2011 MLB Playoffs: Why John Lackey Is a Lock for Red Sox Postseason Rotation
The Red Sox and their fans are nearing what seems to be yet another great finish to a nearly dominating regular season, boasting a 78-50 record, a league-leading .278 batting average, and even managing to crack the top-three in fielding percentage at .987. Life is good if you are a Red Sox fan.
However, pitching has been the main concern this year and will prove to be a potential "X-factor" for this coming postseason play. With Clay Buchholz out with a stress fracture in his lower back, there will most certainly be a vacant spot in the playoff rotation. Many believe this gap will be filled by Erik Bedard, John Lackey or Andrew Miller. Who will rise to the occasion and claim this spot? Let’s take a look and compare these three.
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Let’s start off with overall experience.
Erik Bedard was acquired by the Red Sox on July 31, 2011 as part of a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Seattle Mariners after missing the 2010 season with a shoulder injury. Before becoming part of the Red Sox rotation, Bedard lent his services to the Baltimore Orioles for four years, posting a team-record 10.93 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 2007. He then signed with the Seattle Mariners and pitched for them off and on, battling a shoulder issue. He has an overall record of 55-48 with a lifetime earned run average of 3.69.
However, Bedard lacks one key element that can play a crucial role in succeeding in the MLB—he has no playoff experience. In fact, not one of Bedard’s teams, barring this year’s Red Sox team, has finished above third place in its respective divisions. Nonetheless, Bedard is a lefty who has success at the major-league level and should never be taken lightly by his opponents.
Andrew Miller is a new-comer to the Sox organization. Solidifying a spot in the rotation for now, the 6'7'' lefty has done quite well in the limited experience he has had with the Red Sox. With a 5-1 record to go along with a chunky 4.99 era, Miller has gotten major production from the bats in the Sox lineup. Miller was also thrown right into the fray, having 11 total appearances on the hill this season, with nine of them in the starting pitcher role. Much like Bedard, Miller is new when it comes to postseason play. He has not seen any experience pitching on the big stage against a great team like the Yankees or Rangers, let alone the playoffs.
John Lackey has had an up and down year for the 2011 Red Sox. Having played in the Boston organization for almost two full seasons now, Lackey has posted an overall 128-91 record over his career with a 4.02 earned run average. As a member of the Sox, he is a pedestrian 26-20 with an ERA just under 5.20. Despite putting up average numbers at-best this season, Lackey may have something that sets himself apart from both Bedard and Miller, and that is experience in the postseason. As a starter for the Angels, he has had 14 postseason appearances, including a 3-4 record with a 3.12 ERA. While not posting unbelievable stat lines, Lackey is still a respectable pitcher with the most experience out of all three of these hurlers.
Numbers Don't Lie...Usually
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Let’s crunch some numbers.
If judging by record alone, Lackey would be a no-brainer pick having a 12-9 record this year, as opposed to Bedard (4-9) and Miller (5-1). One can make the case for Miller, but a 5-1 record against sub-par teams in Houston, Baltimore, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, pretty much shatter that theory. If ERA were to determine who got the highly coveted third spot in the rotation, Bedard would get the nod, notching a respectable 3.57, while Lackey (5.98) and Miller (4.99) would be left in the dust.
In fact, Bedard only allows 9.8 hits per nine innings while Miller gives up 10.7 and Lackey 11.1. Also working in Bedard’s favor is the combination of walks and strikeouts in each game. While posting an average of 8.6 strikeouts and two walks a game, Bedard by far has superior numbers when compared to Lackey (who averages 7.1 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per contest) and Miller (6.1 strikeouts and 5.5 walks). We can sit here all day and scour numbers and data, but what it really comes down to is that this is a two-horse race between Erik Bedard and John Lackey.
Edge: Bedard, but not by very much.
We Are Playing Who?!
Let’s take a look at some basic statistics. As any baseball fan knows, the Yankees have been a part of the playoffs seemingly every year. In order to make the World Series, you need to be prepared for whom you may face come playoff time. Out of all three contenders, John Lackey stands out as a clear-cut winner when it comes to playing against the Yankees. He has a 2-0 record against them this year with a catastrophic 7.36 ERA (ouch!).
Overall in his career, Lackey has gone 8-8 versus the Bronx Bombers, three of those wins in the playoffs while suiting up for the Angels. The statistic that is most important here is that Lackey has a 2.90 ERA against the Yanks in playoff situations. This is huge come playoff time. As far as Miller and Bedard go, they have never pitched in the postseason, thus have no numbers to brag about.
The Texas Rangers seem to be the team that is on every Red Sox fan’s mind. Winning only one game this year versus the Rangers is enough to sends chills down any Sox fan’s back. With Bedard being the most successful against the Rangers (4-4 record lifetime, with a 3.42 ERA), the lefty has the edge over Lackey against this team. Although 0-2 this season against the Rangers with a very plebeian 4.50 ERA, it is still better than what Lackey has been able to do against them, posting a respectable 1-1 record but tarnishing that with a disastrous 12.44 ERA. Miller has not seen action against the Rangers this year, thus being a scratch from this aspect of the battle for the third spot in the rotation.
To touch upon Detroit, Bedard is 1-1 this season versus the Tigers with a 3.17 ERA. Overall, Bedard has a career record of 2-3 with an ERA of just over a 4.00. John Lackey, on the other hand, has fared very well against the Tigers over his career, going 6-2 with an ERA just over 4.00 as well. Andrew Miller is again scratched from this, as he has not faced Detroit this season or in his career for that matter. It was a tough choice but I think the edge goes to John Lackey, just because of his experience and recent success pitching against Detroit.
John Lackey Earns His Spot in the Red Sox Pitching Rotation...for Now
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From the looks of it, numbers do not lie, folks. John Lackey is overall the best candidate to pitch for the Red Sox in the playoffs, but lacks in many areas where Bedard flourishes. In the last 10 games, Lackey has been on a tear, going 7-2 with a 5.02 ERA over that span, including a win over the seemingly invincible Texas Rangers.
Bedard, though, has not had the best experience pitching this year. He is 0-2 with a 4.09 ERA since joining the Red Sox with a couple of no-decisions credited to his name. Andrew Miller is a very good pitcher and should pan out very nicely in the bullpen this postseason. He does not have the experience yet against any real contending teams, thus making him fall short of finding a spot on the playoff rotation. Every knowledgeable manager with a head on his shoulders knows that the hottest pitcher should rightfully get time come postseason. Terry Francona certainly has a hunch.