McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

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McAdam: Lackey's recent stretch is deceiving

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- From a distance, the numbers are starting to look impressive: seven wins in the last nine outings, just one loss since July 4.

The manager sounds pleased, noting that this is the pitcher the Red Sox believed they had all along.

But that may be faint praise. Sure, John Lackey now has a dozen wins, second only to Jon Lester among all the Red Sox starters.

A closer look, however, reveals a more nuanced picture. Yes, Lackey is pitching far better than he did for most of the first two months, when four times, he allowed six or more runs in a game and seemed incapable of keeping his team in most games.

But the improvement is more marginal than anything else and Lackey's win total is more a reflection of the run support he's been provided more than any great turnaround on the pitcher's part.

As we've learned, thanks to the introduction of advanced metrics and reflected in recent Cy Young Award balloting, win totals can be both highly misleading and inflated. For starting pitchers, ERA is still the most accurate measuring stick and Lackey's current 5.98 is one of the highest in the American League among qualifying pitchers.

In fact, among the 47 qualifying starters in the American League, Lackey is dead last -- No. 47, a full run worse than currently under-siege A.J. Burnett.

If Lackey didn't have the backing of the game's top offense, he'd be nowhere near a dozen wins. In that nine-game stretch, just twice has he has allowed fewer than three earned runs.

And, tellingly, he's completed the seventh inning once in those nine starts. At a time when bullpens are spent and teams need their starters to chew up innings, Lackey seldom delivers.

Over the nine-game stretch -- and remember, that run of starts is being held up as his best work of the season -- his ERA is 4.11.

Even if Lackey had pitched that "well'' all year, his 4.11 would rank 27th among qualifying American League starters. Put another way, you could fill five full rotations of starters who have lower ERAs all year than Lackey has in during his current stretch of best performances.

And that 4.11 ERA, in this, the second straight season dominated by pitching, that's still more than a tenth of a run above the American League average of 3.97.

For this, Lackey is celebrated?

Tuesday night, he had a 6-0 lead after the first three innings, but allowed base hits to the first three hitters he faced in the bottom of the third. And how did the Rangers score their first run, trailing by six runs? With a bases-loaded walk, courtesy of Lackey.

The walk, meanwhile was issued not to Josh Hamilton or Nelson Cruz, the type of fearsome slugger who could have brought the Rangers back into the game with one swing of the bat. Instead, it was given to ultra-aggressive Elvis Andrus, who has a grand total of 28 walks this season, or, an average of one every three games.

Andrus is neither selective nor dangerous, and yet, Lackey walked him with the bases loaded and a six-run lead.

Does that sound like any kind of turnaround?

Thanks to his swolen victory total, some will suggest that the Red Sox have found their Game 3 playoff starter in Lackey. And if expecting a post-season starting pitcher to give up three or so runs in about six innings is the bar that's been set, then perhaps they have.

But given that the quality of the lineup the Red Sox will face in the Division Series will, by definition, be better than most average lineups Lackey has faced -- and against whom he's compiled a 1.54 WHIP -- then perhaps the Red Sox should keep looking.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

Top prospect Yoan Moncada will join Red Sox on Friday

BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox have announced they will call up top prospect Yoan Moncada when rosters expand from the current 25-man limit.

Earlier Wednesday, Farrell wouldn't officially confirm the imminent promotion but hinted that the Red Sox appeared ready to call up their top prospect.

Farrell first noted that the Red Sox "need better production'' at third base, where both Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill have struggled mightily at the position.

Moncada, a natural second baseman, was shifted to third base earlier this month at Double A Portland. Moncada has a slash line of .285/.388/.547 with 11 homers and 27 RBI in 44 games.

Asked specifically about the potential of a call-up for Moncada, Farrell said: "We've talked about Yoan. And not just as a pinch-runner. It's an exciting young player, an extremely talented guy. There's all positive reviews and evaluations of him.

"When that major league experience is going to initiate, time will tell that. But in terms of playing the position of third base [in the big leagues], that conversation has been had.''

Previously, the Red Sox had resisted bringing Moncada to the big leagues, worried that he wouldn't be in the lineup often enough to continue his development. The Sox didn't want him to miss out on additional experience in the minors by playing only part-time in the majors.

But now that the minor league seasons are about to end -- Portland finishes Labor Day -- there's nothing in the minors for Moncada to miss.

"This is a different scenario than if it were July or early August,'' said Farrell. "The minor league season ends [soon], so is there benefit to him just being here? The answer to that is yes. Do you weigh playing 'X' number of games per week versus what he could be doing at Portland or Pawtucket? Well, that goes away [with the minor league regular seasons end].

"So, again, by all accounts, there's nothing but positives that could come out of experience here -- if that were to happen.''

 Moncada's promotion is similar to the one experience by Xander Bogaerts in 2013, who was brought up in the final week of August 2013 and remained with the club all the way through the end of the team's World Series run that fall, taking playing time from struggling third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

 "For those who have been around this team for a number of years,'' said Farrell, "teams that have had success have always had an injection of young players late in the season that have helped carry the team through the postseason. I think Yoan would be in a similar category to when Pedey [Dustin Pedroia], when Jake [Jacoby Ellsbury] came into the picture. And Andrew (Benintendi) is already here, so I wouldn't separate [Moncada] out from that at all.

"In fact, he's a direct comparison [to those cases].’’

Farrell agreed that the arrival of a young, highly-touted player can inject some energy into a team in the throes of a pennant race.

"Absolutely, there is,'' said Farrell. "You've got a newness element. You've got, likely, above-average speed. You've got athleticism. You've got the unknown across the field on how does a given [opposing] team attack a given guy.

"In the cases we've talked about, it has been beneficial to us for the young player to come up. They find a way to contribute in a meaningful role. "

Without saying that Moncada's promotion was a definite,  he said "there's a lot [of positives]going for it.''

Farrell also acknowledged that the Sox held internal discussions about how Moncada would be utilized, given that the switch-hitter has been far more productive from the left side of the plate.

"We've talked about what's strong side, how do you look to best ease him in, so to speak,'' said Farrell. "We thought that with Benintendi, how do we best ease him in. Well, he blew the doors off of that one [with his early success]. So, if it happens, and if begins here soon, you'll all be aware.''

Farrell said the reports of Moncada's transition to third base have been encouraging despite three errors in his first nine games there.

"He's shown good range, an above-average arm,'' said Farrell. "Where there will be ongoing work and continued development, just as there was at second base, is the ball hit straight at him. That's just pure technique and fundamental positioning with hands and feet.

"But as far as range to his glove side, moving to third base, that seemingly has not been that big of a challenge for him.''