John Lackey 2011 projection:
John Lackey’s inaugural season with the Red Sox didn’t go exactly to plan. There were moments when he looked to have things figured out, but consistency was lacking all season long.
The overall regression in Lackey’s numbers over the past few years is very concerning. Every season since 2005 Lackey has seen a regression in his strikeout rate. His walk rate has regressed since 2007, but for the majority of his career his BB/9 rates have stayed below three. This past season Lackey allowed over three walks per nine for the first time since 2005. It has been a few years now since Lackey was able to generate swings and misses more often than the league average and his contact rate against in 2010 was the highest of his career.
While there is a chance these regressions continue, there is also a good chance he can bounce back a bit in 2011. The drop-off in K/BB rate was the biggest of his career. Lackey’s regression has been, for the most part, slow and steady, but it seemed to be accelerated in 2010. Part of that could have been due to outside forces like adjusting to a new team or having the pressure of a big contract on his mind. Some of it, I believe, comes down to a bit of bad luck.
Lackey doesn’t miss many bats anymore, but that’s not the end of the world. He does generate more ground balls than fly balls and in 2010 he lowered his HR/9 for the third straight season. Two major factors did not work in Lackey’s favor last season. First, his BABIP was .323, the second highest BABIP of his career. This would be understandable if Lackey was allowing a ton of line drives, but his line drive rate in 2010 was his lowest since 2006. Second, and playing off of the inflated BABIP, was the fact that Lackey stranded less than 70 percent of his baserunners. In other words, when Lackey got hurt, it really hurt. In 10 of his 33 starts Lackey allowed five or more earned runs. He allowed eight earned runs once, seven earned runs once, six earned runs three times and five earned runs five times. In almost half of his starts, 16 to be exact, Lackey went five or more innings while allowing no more than two earned runs. Think of how much better his ERA would look if he could have avoided just a few of those blowup games.
Given the abrupt drop in Lackey’s peripherals from 2009 to 2010 — he’s only 32 years old, not a declining, aging pitcher – and factoring in some bad luck with regards to BABIP, there is a good chance that Lackey bounces back in 2011. Keep wishful thinking to a minimum, however, Lackey has not been the 190-plus strikeout pitcher he used to be for quite a few seasons now. On any staff he would be a very solid number three. Thankfully, that is all the Sox need him to be.