John Lackey During Warm-Ups - Red Sox at Nationals (EXHIBITION) 3 April 2010photo © 2010 Dan M | more info (via: Wylio)
When the Red Sox signed John Lackey in December 2009 it came as a surprise to many fans.

Boston had made similar contract offers to free agents Jason Bay and Matt Holliday and a lot of us were hoping the Sox would sign one ofthem so we could continue having a great-hitting left-fielder.

But both outfielders declined the Sox’ offers (Bay amidst injury concerns and money squabbling – Holliday to STL for tons more money) and suddenly Lackey was in Fenway.

$18 MILLION for 14 wins and a near 5.00 ERA? Lackey was as frustrating to watch as any pitcher in the rotation and it seemed to go on all season.

Yeah, he led the team in Quality Starts, but it was by the skin of his teeth. And with tons of base runners, he was always a hit away from losing control of the start.

This is how many people remember Lackey’s 2010 season. His debut in Boston was flat and mostly a struggle. Much the way it was for Lackey when he faced Boston as an Angel. None of us were ever afraid of facing Lackey when he was in LA and it didn’t seem like anyone was afraid of Lackey in 2010.

We were hoping for a 1A pitcher. Instead, what Lackey did in April and May was impersonate Dice-K. Every at-bat ran to deep counts and came with plenty of free passes. It was not a good start with the highest paid player on the team.

By Memorial Day the lines were lit up with people enraged. Can you chalk up the Lackey contract as a bad deal? You sure can if 5-year contracts can be judged on the two months of results.

No one wants to wait to see what happens tomorrow. Who wants to hear about strand rates and xFIP at that point? People want real and tangible results, not to hear from data-crunching analysts who steer the ship and help Red Sox Operations carry out their season from some back office in a cubicle.

When we turn on Extra Innings, we want Tom Caron and Dennis Eckersley telling us that Lackey stymied the Blue Jays for the second time in a month. Of if he had to lose, the reason was a booted ball or a bad call by the umpires.

Who wants to hear about staying the course or letting Lackey adjust? That’s manager double-talk and internal operations speak. For many fans they had already seen enough of Lackey by the time Massachusetts schools let out. No need to wait and see at that point.

Eventually October rolled around and in his last start of 2010, Lackey struck out ten New York Yankees to capture his 14th win. And because he threw 215 innings on the season, he forced his way into the box score to compile 11 losses as well. 23 decisions in 33 starts. Dennis Eckersleyphoto © 2008 Rubenstein | more info (via: Wylio)

Ending the year as a 4.0 WAR starting pitcher left Lackey grading out as a ~$16 million player. That’s two million shy of what he was paid for the season. Underwhelming for sure and he probably owes us some money.

Aside from all of that, what we saw occur in the second half of 2010 (and with little fanfare) is what appears to be a stabilization of skills. Also, a tale of two halves.

• In Lackey’s first 19 starts, his strikeouts were down (5.3 K/9) and his walks were up (3.5 BB/9)
• In Lackey’s final 14 starts, his strikeouts were back up (8.1 K/9) and his walks were down (2.3 BB/9

If you look at first half and second halves distinctly, you have a guy who struggled with command while opponents hit nearly .300 off him. His ERA was over 5.00 and the WHIP was 1.60.

But the second half was more in line with the old historical Lackey. K’s were up, walks were down and he was still logging high innings totals as he had done all year. Except that the back half of ’10 brought more losses than wins (5-6).

Fast-forward to 2011 Spring Training and there are more doubters around Lackey than there should be. His 2010 was a subtle split of two different parts. He lumbered to adjust in his new uniform and some suggested he may have also been concealing an injury.

On top of this, it was reported that Lackey’s wife was going through a personal matter that he did not want disclosed to the public. This may have also have affected him in some way.

Whatever it may have been, it appears that Lackey settled into playing in Boston and re-established the profile that led the Red Sox to invest in him to begin with. He’s rock-solid.

The 2011 outlook for Lackey remains what it was when he inked the 5-year deal. He’s a potential 20-win pitcher who could effortlessly spin a 3.50 ERA and give you 200 innings and 150+ strikeouts. He is a workhorse with a fiery mentality that wants to – and expects to – anchor a staff.

You cannot just ignore the first half of 2010 for Lackey, but the second half is what we should set our sights towards when it comes to this guy. It’s completely in line with his peripherals and historical makeup.

I’d bet on a healthy rebound from #40.

    John Lackey 2011

204 IP
3.69 ERA
161 Ks
1.31 WHIP

Soxphoto © 2003 David Laws | more info (via: Wylio)