Severely Lack(ey)ing

Not all free agent signings work out. Sometimes you sign a guy who was coming off a strong year and for whatever reason it just doesn't work out, ask Edgar Renteria. It is almost impossible to predict who will thrive under a new deal in a new town, for every Renteria and Julio Lugo there is a David Ortiz or an Adrian Beltre. However, there are signings that from the moment they are rumored don't make a lot of sense. The John Lackey acquisition was one of those signings for me, I would have thrown myself in front of Theo's car if it would have stopped him from getting to the meeting. Coming off a 2009 campaign that saw him go a pedestrian 11 - 8 in only 176 innings, despite pitching in a division that was less offensive than a Full House episode, the Red Sox overreacted to missing out on Matt Holiday by breaking every rule they seemingly ever had for free agent pitchers and signing Lackey. They wouldn't go the extra year for Pedro, they showed little to no interest in bringing back Derek Lowe, yet threw 5 years and $82 million at Lackey. A move that was a 180 degree turn from everything they had done for the last 7 years.

He was a bulldog they kept saying, a horse in the rotation who will give you innings. Baseball has changed a little over the years but I still prefer my 'horses' to throw more than 210 innings, something Lackey has done exactly three times in his 10 year career. A postseason veteran who could anchor a rotation in October was another popular spin, only he was essentially living off of a game 7 start against the Giants in 2002. Overall his postseason record is 3 - 4, albeit with a very respectable 3.13 ERA, but if you take away 2002 he is only 1 - 4 in 9 October starts. Hardly the stuff of Legends, good enough to keep you in the game most of the time, but hardly ever good enough to win you a game on his own. Outside of sheer numbers, my biggest issue with the Lackey signing was that he just didn't pass the 'eye test'. None of his pitches looked to have a ton of movement, his velocity was low 90s at best. Instead of being impressed watching him shut down the Sox in the 2009 ALDS, I spent the entire game wondering how in the world they couldn't hit him. During that game I think he may have become the first player to throw a breaking fastball, either that or it was just gravity running its natural course.

When Lackey started his Boston career everyone talked about having three Aces, despite Lackey never showing 'Ace' stuff even when he was the defacto Ace in Anaheim. A strong spring quickly gave way to a very mediocre, at best regular season. Statistics will tell you that Lackey was about as productive as a replacement or bench player, highlighted by his 1.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). However, some statistics will tell you that he was even worse than that. On August 12th, which is roughly 2/3 of the way through the season, John Lackey's batting average against would have ranked 23rd among American League offensive players. Throw in a 1.419 WHIP (walk + hits / innings) and a 4.40 ERA and suddenly mediocre starts to seem a little generous. Perhaps the most frustrating part of Lackey's first year in Boston was the lack of accountability he showed after starts. Fans in this town don't want to hear $18 million dollar players talk about how they 'threw the ball real well' after getting shelled. Lackey's insistence on blaming everything but himself for poor results only compounded the frustration of a disappointing season.

There would be an adjustment period coming to the American League East, was the talk after last season's disappointment, and this year Lackey would be better. The Sox showed confidence in him slotting him behind Lester as their number two starter ahead of both Buchholz and Beckett. It would quickly prove to be misplaced confidence, as bad as he was last year Lackey has managed to be even worse this year. Whether you're talking about ERA (7.36), WHIP (1.604) or WAR (-1.8) Lackey has put up career worst numbers across the board, prompting him to be skipped twice already after off days. The Red Sox are going to have a choice to make soon as Buchholz works his way back from the disabled list. Do you keep Lackey in the rotation despite his inability to give them a consistent chance to win, or do you once again bump Tim Wakefield regardless of how well he is pitching. Someone is going to the bullpen in a week or two and Lackey, in only the second year of a five year deal, figures to get much more rope than he has earned due simply to his salary. The Sox don't have a ton of options here, his stuff looks like that of a batting practice pitcher, his velocity is nowhere near where it was even 2 or 3 years ago but they are still on the hook for roughly $45 million after this year which makes him impossible to move. All signs point to a lot more of the same for the next 3+ years since pitchers don't generally improve at 32 years old, especially ones with a history of arm issues.

5 years, 82.5 million dollars is a good sized contract. Another way to look at it is $20 million more than the cost of a combined 10 years out of Lester and Buchholz. Yet another way to look at it would be as $250,000 more than a combined 10 years out of Youkilis and Pedrioa. One last way to look at it would be as severely Lack(ey)ing in value.

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