On September 19th, the Boston Red Sox started John Lackey in the second game of their doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles. Lackey stayed true to his form this season, going 4.1 innings giving up eight runs on 11 hits and two walks.
That’s an ERA of 16.6 and a 2.54 WHIP. That brings Lackey's numbers for the season to 12-12 with a 6.49 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. In fact, his ERA is 1.15 runs above Bronson Arroyo’s, who has the second-worst ERA in all the Majors.
Now let’s take it a step further. How does Lackey’s 2011 season rank among the all-time worst in ERA for starters? Let’s see what the numbers say.
(Sorted by ERA and WHIP rank in parentheses)
(All pitchers had to have qualified for the ERA title in Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index)
If the season ended today, Lackey’s ERA would be the 13th highest in MLB history among starters. With another start like he had against the Orioles, he could shoot up above LaTroy Hawkins and take fifth place.
It’s amazing to think that the Red Sox would keep sending him out on the hill. One could argue that the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett forced the Red Sox to start Lackey, but he has been historically bad this year.
In August, he posted 4.61 ERA with a 1.61 WHIP, and that was his best month in terms of ERA. In terms of WHIP, his best month was June, when he posted a 1.28 WHIP with a 5.28 ERA.
It is almost a complete certainty that when John Lackey pitches, you need to give him at least 5 runs of support for the team to win. The Red Sox would have been better off promoting guys from AAA.
At least the Red Sox would have had the chance to find someone who can produce at a respectable level. And now with Boston's lead in the AL Wild Card race shrinking, they have only one starter they can trust, Jon Lester, and they are praying that Beckett stays healthy.
This means that the only reason to continue start Lackey is to justify the contract the Rex Sox gave him.
And if they start him because they have invested $82.5 million in him, then they risk not making the playoffs just for the sake of attempting to justify a bad contract.