Boston Red Sox Catching Up With Old Friends: John Lackey


You know that nostalgic feeling that you get when catching up with an old friend that you haven’t seen for a while? This offseason the BoSox Injection staff will be checking up on a number of former Red Sox players to see what they have been up to since leaving Boston, while reflecting on how the team has managed to replace them since they left.

John Lackey

The deal that took John Lackey away from Boston to the St Louis Cardinals on July 31, 2014 was so infamously lopsided that, in retrospect, I have to wonder if we weren’t cursed by the Expos Ghost for the Pedro Martinez trade. Lackey was traded alongside pitching prospect Corey Littrell in exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, not too far off being a modern day equivalent of Tom Fortugno being traded for a bag of baseballs.

That sounds harsh and it is, especially as Kelly’s record in the second half of the season showed big improvements. Do keep in mind though that if nothing else John Lackey was a solid and reliable number 2 starting pitcher and the Red Sox had just lost, with dwindling hope of recovering, their number 1 before him. Ultimately, Allen Craig gave little impression that the predicted rebound at the plate he was due for would materialize and fell to Pawtucket where he seems destined to languish for the remainder of his $20 million contract.

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Despite Craig turning into the offensive black hole that was feared he would be, the Red Sox managed to extract some value out of the deal with the curious case of Kelly. He initially struggled in Boston, not getting the strikeouts a high-90s heater should acquire, but he settled down after an extended stint in Triple-A, grew a mustache and started leaning more heavily on his peripherals. In the end a solid, if unspectacular, back of the rotation starter or future bullpen innings-eater.

So the story goes, John Lackey at the ripe old age of 36 was off to St. Louis and I’m sure even he could not have expected the turn of events that would transpire. Lackey of course, had been getting increasingly better as he was getting increasingly older and that was to repeat itself throughout the remainder of 2014 and into this year. Lackey unexpectedly would be thrust into the top of the Cardinals’ rotation when ace Adam Wainwright’s season ended unceremoniously on April 25th.

Yet Lackey rose to the occasion. Posting a career best ERA of 2.77 over a career-high 218 innings pitched, Lackey showed he had the stuff and the determination to be the staff ace regardless of Wainwright’s status. His year was marked by consistency, a four seam fastball that could flash mid-90s, and no beer, chicken or video games to be seen.

So it should come as no surprise that for the first game of their postseason career, the Cardinals gave the ball to Lackey and he was just as consistent, filthy and stone-cold sober, if not more. Against his old friend and ex-teammate Jon Lester, pitching for the Chicago Cubs, he came out the better, pitching 7.1 innings of 2 hit ball, blanking the streaking Cubs and bringing yet again to light just how badly Boston came out of that trade last year.

If there’s one thing the Red Sox rotation has lacked this year it’s consistency. Clay Buchholz flashed top of the rotation potential until, like Old Faithful, he got injured and his season was over. As you do. Eduardo Rodriguez settled down, but his year was dogged by sporadic implosions whether caused by pitch tipping or pitch missing. Rick Porcello tried too hard to be things he isn’t – an ace, a fastball strikeout machine, a fan favorite at Fenway. His good starts at the beginning and end of the year sandwiched colossal innings of hemorrhaging runs, in particular the long ball. Joe Kelly, as noted above, was up and down on the park and in the organization. Only Wade Miley had something of a mean, however it was only average at the end of the day.

John Lackey was able, in 2015, to go out start after start and give his team a very good chance to win with almost no exceptions. Not only that but he did this on league minimum income, a steal. Would Boston have finished in a different place had the Lackey trade not taken place? Unlikely, and certainly in the future we may come to cherish the youth and electric arm of Joe Kelly should he get it all worked out. It remains to be seen the steps the Red Sox will take to rebound for 2016, but don’t bet on them going forward without a Jon Lackey type leading the way.

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