So John Lackey, guys. He’s a good pitcher again. Really good, even.
What’s not stunning about Lackey is that he’s righted the ship. I think most people worth their salt had some hope heading into the season that he’d be better than expected. The off the field distractions were gone, expectations were super low and most important of all – he was healthy for the first time in four seasons. With a clear mind and sound body, the conditions were certainly in place for Lackey to finally enjoy his first taste of success since coming to Boston back in 2010.
But let’s be 100% honest – no one thought he’d be this good – especially considering the road he’s had to travel.
In 2011, Lackey had an ERA of 6.41, a mark that landed him dead last in all of baseball among qualified pitchers. His ERA+ of 65 was historically bad – the 22nd worst mark in that category in the HISTORY of baseball. Then in the 2011 offseason, he had to have Tommy John surgery, putting him on the shelf for the entire 2012 season.
Fast forward to today, and Lackey’s the owner of the 9th lowest ERA in the American League. His ERA+ of 145 ranks him among the top 20 pitchers in all of baseball. While that’s quite the turnaround in and of itself, it’s barely scratching the surface.
Lackey’s 3.28 SIERA is not only a career high – but places him ahead of superstars like Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, CC Sabathia, Cole Hamels and Justin Verlander. His 8.39 K/9 rate is the highest it’s been since 2005. His BB/9 (1.95) is a career high.
And not only has this actually happened this year – but there’s no indication that he’s slowing down. In fact, he’s getting better.
Six days ago against Colorado, he struck out a whopping 12 Rockies hitters without walking a single, solitary batter. His follow-up last night was even more incredible, but it wasn’t just the 6 K’s and 1 BB he allowed. According to Brooksbaseball.net – last night alone, Lackey had career-high 22 Whiffs, 12 of which were off his fastball. Nine of those twenty-two whiffs came in the first 15 pitches of the game, much of which was spent with Lackey throwing his fastball 94-96 mph – a full 4-5MPH harder than his average velocity of 91.4mph. Just to give you some perspective, in 2010, he had only ONE start where he got six or more whiffs on his fastball. His 22 swing strikes wasn’t just his career high, but also his best swing and miss total in any game going all the way back to 2005.
Getting strike one has played a huge role in his resurgence as well. His f-Strike% of 65.7% ranks him 7th among all big league starters, with only Phil Hughes being the lone AL East pitcher ahead of him in that category. Controlling counts and getting ahead of batters is pitching 101- but in a division with as much offensive firepower as this one – it’s necessary for survival. Lackey’s doing it in spades.
In 2013, Lackey’s officially made it all the way back to his old self. He lives around the fringes of the strike zone and doesn’t so much as challenge hitters as forces them to make decisions on questionable pitches. While his curveball is back in the mix again – it’s been the location of his fastball that should have people excited – especially coming off of Tommy John surgery. In sum, it’s good, old fashioned fundamental pitching that’s put him back in the saddle: make hitters make choices, get strike one and don’t murder yourself with walks. Welcome back, John Lackey. It’s nice to finally get to meet you.