Apparently that's John Lackey's strategy, as the longtime Los Angeles Angels ace swapped coasts Monday, agreeing to a deal worth slightly more than the $82.5 million, five-year contract A.J. Burnett signed with the New York Yankees last winter, reports ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. That's right, Lackey left the Angels, who won only one of four playoff series between his former and new teams in the decade, to head to the Red Sox, who won the other three.
One immediate benefit: Lackey no longer has to play the leading role. With Josh Beckett and Jon Lester around, Lackey might rate only the No. 3 starter in a suddenly deep Red Sox rotation. Fantasy owners sometimes think that results in a boost in a pitcher's win total, since he'll be matched up with fewer opponents' No. 1 starters. They're wrong -- after the first turn of a team's rotation, off days, skipped spots and postponements can throw the order off, making it as likely a staff ace will be matched up with a No. 5 starter as with a fellow ace. As such, don't put any stock in rotation slots.
That said, Lackey's move to Boston more likely will result in a boost to -- or at least stabilization of -- his win total. Sure, the Angels averaged more runs per game (5.45) than the Red Sox (5.38) in 2009, but it was the Red Sox who had the better bullpen, with a 3.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP to the Angels' 4.49 and 1.46. Angels relievers blew three Lackey leads, and the right-hander had three other quality starts in which he departed with the score tied.
Lackey's critics might point out that he has a 2-6 record, 5.43 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 11 career starts at Fenway Park (postseason included), but keep in mind those numbers might have been just as much a product of the loaded offenses he was facing as the ballpark itself. Fenway might have ranked a top-10 hitters' park for much of the decade, compared to a middling-to-low ranking for Angel Stadium, but Fenway also hasn't been a homer haven in recent seasons, or at least no more so than Lackey's former home. At the worst, Lackey's ERA might see an uptick closer to the 4.00 mark, his WHIP to near 1.30, but if healthy for 30-plus starts, he could be a 15-game winner who averages better than seven strikeouts per nine innings.
There's that key phrase, though: If healthy. If there's any knock on Lackey, it's the elbow troubles that cost him stints on the disabled list to begin each of the past two seasons. He did make 24 and 27 starts, respectively, in those two years and showed no regression in his command ratios, but the Angels did occasionally work him hard, such as a 20-start span at one point in 2009 when he averaged 111.2 pitches per start and topped 120 pitches 12 times. Not that fantasy owners should expect Lackey's 2010 to come crashing down for health reasons, but he's no guarantee to make 33-plus starts unscathed, either. That is actually the primary reason he won't -- and shouldn't -- be drafted among the top 20 starters.
Consider Lackey more of a top-25 starting pitching candidate, meaning if he's taken earlier than the eighth or ninth round, he's being overdrafted due to name value.