2011 Projections: John Lackey

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts October 3, 2010.  REUTERS/Greg M. Cooper (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

John Lackey 2011 projection:

IP W SO BB ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 K/BB
210 12 159 65 3.96 1.33 6.81 2.79 2.45

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.

Categories: Boston Red Sox John Lackey

Charlie first started writing about baseball back in 2008 when he opened Fantasy Baseball 365. Since graduating college with a degree in English, he has spent time coaching baseball as well as working in several minor league front offices. He also writes for The Outside Corner and contributes to Project Prospect and ESPN's Sweet Spot. Writer from August 3, 2010 - May 6, 2012

6 Responses to “2011 Projections: John Lackey” Subscribe

  1. went9 November 12, 2010 at 5:25 PM #

    Where are your predictions from? Bill James is just a bit more optimistic for Lackey in 2011.

    Lackey did change his pitch repertoire this season by featuring the cut fastball as his go to pitch (39% increase in use) and dropping the use of the fourseamer from 51% to 15%.
    I’d expect to see an increase in Lackey’s GB% but it only increased by less than 1% from ’09 to ’10.
    In July and August, when Lackey was at his best for the ’10 season, the GB% increase was closer to 5%. Maybe he’s getting a feel for the pitch and hope is for more of the July/August results when pitching to contact.
    And who knows what the arrival of Curt Young could do to change Lackey’s approach.
    Young’s philosophy on first pitch strikes differs from that of John Farrell’s.

    • Charlie Saponara November 12, 2010 at 2:57 PM #

      The projections are my own. I do them every year for every team at fantasybaseball365.com

      James does have more optimistic projections, but I think you'll find that when many other projection systems release their 2011 numbers, that they will be a bit less optimistic. I think we'll see most project Lackey for some type of improvement, however, which is the important thing.

      The addition of a cutter has helped many pitchers in the last few seasons. As you mention, perhaps Lackey struggled with getting a true feel for the pitch, especially when it came to command. I'm optimistic that he'll be better, especially with command, in 2011.

  2. went9 November 12, 2010 at 8:37 PM #

    Thanks for the link to fantasybaseball365.

    I’m hoping that Lackey, Beckett, and Daisuke all finish their Thanksgiving dinners and start running like madmen the next morning.
    I’m enjoying your ’11 projection series. Thanks Charlie.

    • Charlie Saponara November 12, 2010 at 5:23 PM #

      Glad you enjoy them. Hopefully, along with the running, Dice-K works on throwing some strikes.

  3. Gerry November 13, 2010 at 2:59 AM #

    Thanks for your insights. Rob Munstis had a good piece on Lackey facing about double the # of lefties in his 2010 ALE debut than he had ever faced previously. He had to make a ton of adjustments: to the division, the weather, the intense culture, a new pitching philosophy. At the same time, we all sympathized at some lost games due to defense, blown holds & saves, lack of offense … all of which would have at least rattled his cage enough to effect his approach.

    It would be the worst of ironies if the lineup of Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Buchholz, Daisuke, Wake, recently considered among the best in baseball and under control for years, continued to pitch like 2010.

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