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.