By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Can we stop now? Please?
Can we stop with all the talk that John Lackey, in spite of his bloated ERA, is, you know, really pitching better than the numbers suggest because of all those wins? Can we stop suggesting that Lackey isn't really all that bad, and that the second half of the season has seen Lackey pitch much better?
Because it's not true. Any of it.
Take Friday night as an example. The Red Sox had lost three of four in Toronto, seven of 10 overall and came into Tropicana Field needing to throw Tampa Bay off their scent.
The Rays trailed the Red Sox by six games in the loss column before the game. A loss would have dropped them back another game, stripped them of any momentum and essentially forced them to win the final two games of the series to pick up any ground in the standings.
The previous two nights, Red Sox starters (Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller) failed to get past the fifth inning. The bullpen was used up, and with both Josh Beckett and Erik Bedard being skipped this series due to injury, the Sox needed someone to eat up innings and keep them in the game.
And come to think of it, isn't that the mantra of the (dwindling) number of Lackey backers? That Lackey's numbers may not be inspiring, but he competes and, most nights, gives his team a chance?
Instead, Lackey gave up three runs in the second, two more in the third and didn't come out for the fourth inning. Trailing 5-0 after three, the Sox instead turned to Scott Atchison, hoping he could do what Lackey couldn't.
(Officially, the Red Sox suggested that Lackey left the game with a contusion of the calf, suffered when John Jaso lined a comebacker off his leg in the bottom of the third. But that seems like windrow dressing. With 69 pitches thrown to get nine outs, Lackey was on his way to a quick shower, comebacker or no comebacker).
Friday's start marked the ninth time in 25 starts this season that Lackey has given up five or more runs in an outing. Or, more than once every three tries.
Even before Fright night's debacle, Lackey ranked 44th in ERA among A.L. starters with at least 140 innings. If you're wondering who was 45th, the answer is: no one.
Among regular starters, Lackey has the worst ERA in the league. And it's not particularly close. With Lackey at 6.11 -- of course, his ERA went to 6.30 after Friday's stinker -- the next closest ERA belonged to Minnesota's Brian Duensing at 5.34.
In other words, Lackey is almost a full run worse than the 43rd best pitcher in the American League.
Just in case you think that ERA isn't a proper barometer, know that Lackey also ranks dead last in OPS allowed (.852); tied for last in fewest number of quality starts (eight); and second-to-last in WHIP (1.57).
The only category in which Lackey is among the league-leaders is run support, where he ranks fourth in the American League.
That would explain his 12 wins, because surely nothing else about his pitching does.
When Lackey had his "run'' in which he went 7-1 over nine starts, his ERA was (italics please) still (end italics) over 4.00 (4.10, to be precise). The only way you 87.5 percent of your decisions while giving up better than four runs per nine innings is to have your teammates score runs by the bucketload in support.
That's what happened to Lackey. Any suggestion that he had executed some sort of turnaround is laughable.
Forget the salary and the attendant expectations. Evaluated on his own outings, Lackey has consistently been the worst starter in the American League this season -- and no amount of re-arranging the numbers can deflect that.