John Lackey and his Red Sox Journey
By Brian Phair
By most accounts, John Lackey’s performance in 2010 was considered an under-achievement. He posted his 3rd highest career era and tied his career high in walks and runs allowed for a season, making Boston Red Sox fans question his 5-year, $82.5 million contract last off-season. The contract may have been the beginning of the issues with Lackey, because it set an expectation that he was an ace-type starter, despite winning more than 14 games in a season just once in his 9-year career. In 2010, Lackey finished 14-11, which is a solid record for a middle-to-end of the rotation starter, which by all accounts, he is in Boston. To expect 17 wins and an era around 3 from Lackey will almost certainly set him up for failure, but with his drive and some off-season motivation, 2011 should be an improved campaign for the 32-year old righty. (more after the jump)
"I’m just trying to give myself the best chance possible to stay healthy and maintain a high-level performance throughout the year, because I think we’re all pretty excited about this season and wanting to be part of it. – John Lackey on his off-season weight-loss"
After reporting to Spring Training this week, Lackey was noticeable thinner to everyone who came across him. He lost 10 pounds this off-season (although most felt it looked like more), because he recognized that he is at an age where extra work is needed to stay in shape and be able to pitch and remain healthy the entire season and into the post-season. He also realizes the level of expectation that is placed on him now that he is in such a high-profile, media-crazy city like Boston. Last season was not horrible by any account, but it was also not one of his best years, so any advantage he can bring to the table in 2011 (like weight-loss) is a positive.
"I’m not saying I pitched great, I’m not saying that at all. I definitely could have pitched better…There’s definitely room for improvement. I think experience of a year here will help. I think I did some good things in the second half and hopefully I’ll just kind of keep that moving. – John Lackey on his 2010 season"
From my perspective, if Lackey can improve on his walk numbers and drop his era a tad, he will be an extremely productive member of the starting rotation in 2011. He is either the 3rd or 4th starter in the rotation, so getting 14 or so wins from that slot is not to shabby for a top-tier team. He did have a tendency to allow too many base-runners, resulting in a lot of runs scored, and that forced the Sox offense to constantly be fighting from behind and putting up big, crooked numbers on the scoreboard to pull off a victory. In 15 of his 33 starts, Lackey received 6+ runs of support from his offense and in another 11 starts, he was afforded 3-5 runs of support. If everything else remained the same and Lackey allowed just slightly fewer runs per game (3.45 in 2010), then he could be a 17+ game winner, almost instantly.
It’s not just that easy to reduce your runs per game average, but when you look at Lackey’s career mark of 3.06, the sense is that he just needs to return to his old ways of walking less than to 52 men a year, like he did from 2007-2009, and allowing under 100 runs to score, like he did from 2005-2009,. Those 2 changes and the offense he has behind him will allow the ultimate success for Lackey next season and in the years to come. It is no easy task because of the level of competition he is facing in the AL East, but it seems he is up to the task. I dare say that I expect bigger and better things from Lackey 2011, but with a cautious undertone.
Away from the playing field, in addition to his weight-loss, Lackey had a tough off-season. He told Rob Bradford of WEEI that Krista Lackey, his wife, was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Thanksgiving. The good news is that the cancer was caught at an early stage and according to John she “was doing really good.” They couple spent most of the off-season in California, because Krista was getting treatment there. Even though all things seem to be going well, our thoughts and prayers are with Krista as she fights the awful disease. The Red Sox owe her a debt of gratitude, because as a Maine native and a graduate of University of New Hampshire, she reportedly was a big influence in the Lackeys coming to Boston.
No matter how you cut it, the expectations for Lackey will be high in 2011, as they are every season when you have a big contract and wear the hanging socks on your uniform. His 2010 was solid, better than most gave him credit for, but a strong 2011 campaign will begin to wash away any remaining negative feelings about his contract. He is not an ace on the Red Sox staff, but fills an equally important role to the team’s overall success in the starting rotation. My current prediction for Lackey in 2011 is that he will have a strong season: 32 starts, 200 innings, 15-9 record, 4.10 era, and 160 K’s. Let’s hope I’m right…