Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Nine things to like about John Lackey
By Jeremy Lundblad
ESPN Stats & Information
1. Red Sox are getting a postseason veteran
If there is any question as to whether John Lackey can handle the pressure of Boston, consider these two facts: (1) As a rookie in 2002, he got the start and won Game 7 of the World Series, and (2) he was a high school quarterback in Texas. Lackey knows pressure.
He also possesses immense postseason experience. In 14 career postseason appearances, Lackey has a 3.12 ERA, third-best among active pitchers with at least 10 starts. Since coming into the league in 2002, he has thrown 78 postseason innings, most in the American League and third-most overall after Andy Pettitte (99 2/3) and Josh Beckett (93 2/3) over that span.
When Lackey turned 31 on Oct. 23, he had already made 12 postseason starts. Only seven players in MLB history made more starts before turning 31. One of them is Beckett (13), who is still just 29. The only American League duo that had comparable experience at such a young age was Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman with the A's in the 1970s.
2. Boston's big three all have won World Series clinchers
In 2002, Lackey started and won the decisive Game 7 of the World Series for the Angels. Just 24, he was the first rookie to do that since Babe Adams in 1909. The following year, Beckett won the clinching Game 6 of the World Series, earning himself MVP honors at just 23. Finally, Jon Lester was just 23 when he picked up the win in the decisive Game 4 of the 2007 World Series for the Red Sox. So the Red Sox now boast three pitchers who have started and won the deciding game of the World Series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that has happened only seven previous times -- and not in 63 years. The last team that could claim that distinction was the 1946 Yankees with Red Ruffing, Spud Chandler and Tiny Bonham.
3. Lackey is kryptonite to A-Rod
Alex Rodriguez has 1,738 strikeouts in his career. No pitcher is responsible for more of them than Lackey. The two have faced each other 61 times. Rodriguez has stuck out 23 times. He is a .176 career hitter against Lackey, his worst batting average against anyone he has faced 50 times. It would be silly to suggest that the Red Sox signed Lackey for this sole reason, but the fact that it's A-Rod probably didn't hurt. For what it's worth, Rodriguez's career batting average against the projected Red Sox rotation is now .209. It's not all good news, though. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira have hit a combined .377 against Lackey.
4. Lackey has proven effective against the AL East
Lackey has already proven that he can compete in the AL East. Since 2005, he is 19-10 with a 3.08 ERA against AL East opponents. That ERA is third-best among starting pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched, behind only Matt Garza and CC Sabathia. It places Lackey ahead of both Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez. Take out the 4.21 ERA against the Red Sox during that span, and Lackey's ERA drops to 2.82 against the AL East since 2005. At 9-2 all-time against the Rays, he is tied with Bartolo Colon for best winning percentage against Tampa Bay among active pitchers with at least 10 decisions. Then, there are the Yankees. In his first three seasons, Lackey was 1-5 with a 7.07 ERA against them. Since 2005, he is 4-2 with a 3.38 ERA.
5. Fenway hasn't been friendly (until recently)
First, the bad news: Lackey is 2-5 with a 5.75 at Fenway Park in the regular season. That's his worst winning percentage at any ballpark in which he has made at least five starts. Now, the good news: Over his past three starts at Fenway (including the 2008 postseason), Lackey is 1-1 with a 2.28 ERA. That aligns with his overall numbers against the Red Sox over the past couple of years. Including the postseason, from 2002 to 2007, Lackey was 1-7 with a 6.24 ERA against the Red Sox. Since then, he's been far more impressive, posting a 3-2 record with a 2.22 ERA.
6. Get that infield defense ready
By no means is Lackey the second coming of Derek Lowe when it comes to being a ground-ball pitcher. With a 1.37 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio, he ranked 28th out of the 73 American League pitchers with 90 or more innings. However, Lackey's starts could come at the expense of Tim Wakefield, whose 0.89 ratio was 66th on that list. Combine that with a potential full season out of Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox infield could be in store for a busy season. With Marco Scutaro in the fold and rumors swirling around Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox have clearly prioritized improving their infield defense this offseason. The Lackey deal should do nothing to change that, particularly since he enjoyed Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins behind him in recent years.
7. His 2009 season was better than at first glance
Lackey finished 2009 with an 11-8 record and 3.83 ERA. It marked his fewest wins since 2003 and worst ERA since 2004. However, his season totals look a lot better when you consider that Lackey was 1-2 with a 6.61 ERA in mid-June. Beginning the season on the disabled list with a strained triceps, Lackey didn't start his first game until May 16 and took about a month to return to form. However, after the All-Star break, Lackey was one of the best pitchers in the AL. In the second half, he went 7-4 with a 3.05 ERA. His 103 1/3 innings pitched were the fourth-most of any AL pitcher in the second half. From a numbers perspective, Lackey was even more effective in the second half of 2009 than he was in 2007, when he finished third in the AL Cy Young voting.
8. Lackey's arm has fewer innings than Halladay's
Forget for a second that the Red Sox didn't give up any current prospects to sign Lackey, while they would have lost several in acquiring Roy Halladay. Halladay has by far the more proven track record, which puts him among the top three pitchers in the game. However, Lackey still boasts impressive numbers. Consider this: Since 2004 (the year after Halladay won the Cy Young), Lackey's 83 wins are second only to Halladay's 89 in the AL. Consider also that Lackey's first experience as a regular pitcher was in 1999 at Grayson County College. Prior to that, he played mostly first base. Where was Halladay in 1999? Starting his first full season in the majors after having thrown 500-plus innings since being drafted in 1995. Clearly, Lackey, who is a year and a half younger, has fewer miles on his arm.
9. Lackey is a model of consistency
Apart from his 19-9 campaign in 2007, Lackey hasn't put up seasons that garner Cy Young votes. That said, he is one of the most consistent and durable pitchers in baseball. Lackey has posted at least 10 wins and logged at least 150 innings in every season since 2003, his first full season in the majors. Only six pitchers have longer active streaks. Lackey also has five straight seasons of 10-plus wins and an ERA under 4.00. The only two pitchers who can match that are Halladay (five seasons) and Johan Santana (seven seasons).
Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.