Nation STATion: Quantifying Lackey's awfulness

Nation STATion: Quantifying Lackey's awfulness
September 1, 2011, 1:58 pm
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By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

We are getting to the point where we need to consider Boston's John Lackey, if not the worst starting pitcher in baseball, certainly in the bottom five. There has been an attempt over the last couple of months to produce some instantaneous revisionist history of Lackey's pitching. But, I'm simply not buying it.

In his latest outing, he gave up five runs, four earned in the Red Sox 5-2 loss to the Yankees. The Sox left 16 men on base, but had they delivered, they perhaps would have given Lackey another win when he again pitched poorly.

Lackey has given up four earned runs or more than a dozen times this season. There have only been 16 pitchers who can make that claim. Only six pitchers have given up four plus earned runs more than 12 times, led by old friend Bronson Arroyo who has done it 14 times. Arroyo is 2-8 in those 14 games. Brett Myers of the hapless Astros is 0-10 in the 13 games he has at least given up four or more earned runs.

Of the 16 pitchers on the list, only two pitchers have won three or more of their poorly pitched games. One is Chris Capuano of the Mets who is 3-7. The other is Lackey, who is an amazing 5-6. I don't know which is more depressing, the fact that in Lackey's 10 defeats this season he has an ERA of 8.44, or the fact that in his 12 wins, his ERA is 4.13.

Of the 33 starters with at least 12 wins this season, no one has a worse ERA than Lackey in his wins. Justin Verlander, in his 20 wins, has an ERA of 1.68. You need a microscope to see Clayton Kershaws 0.76 ERA in his 17 wins. Yankee rookie Ivan Nova has a 2.98 ERA in his 14 wins and Josh Tomlin has a 3.32 ERA in his 12 wins. But they all pale in comparisons to Lackeys 4.13. Even A.J. Burnett has a 4.12 ERA in his wins, but no one is even pretending that Burnett has pitched well and he has had at least the decency to only have nine wins to go along with that awful winning ERA. Among pitchers who have a worse ERA in their wins, only Tim Wakefield (4.69) has as many as six wins.

The fact that Lackey has as many wins as he has is simply a reflection of the fact that in most cases, the Sox have hit enough to compensate for his mediocrity. Lackey has averaged exactly 6 runs in support this season in games hes pitched. The Sox have scored six runs for him three times, seven runs three other times, twice theyve scored nine runs, and twice theyve scored 10 runs, and one time each they have scored 11, 12 and 16 runs in games hes started.

Now, I will not argue he has pitched better of late. In his last 10 starts, he is 7-2, but his ERA is still a miserable 4.22 and his WHIP is a lousy 1.453. Speaking of WHIP (Walks Hits divided by Innings Pitched) for the season, Lackey sits at 1.548 in 23 starts. Only five pitchers in baseball with at least 20 starts have a worse WHIP, which brings me to my initial assertion that Lackey is in the bottom five among starters this season.

As we learned from Felix Hernandez's Cy Young selection last season when he finished with a 13-12 record, you have to ignore W-L record, but you cant ignore WHIP and ERA.

Check out this group and you can decide for yourself:
J.A. Happ, Astros: 1.644 WHIP, 6.03 ERA, 4-15 record
Tyler Chatwood, Angels: 1.604 WHIP, 4.35 ERA, 6-9 record
Nick Blackburn, Twins: 1.598 WHIP, 4.49 ERA, 7-10 record
Jo-Jo Reyes, JaysOrioles: 1.580 WHIP, 5.26 ERA, 7-10 record
Joel Pineiro, Angels: 1.565 WHIP, 5.33 ERA, 5-6 record
John Lackey, Sox: 1.548 WHIP, 5.94 ERA, 12-10 record

One last bitter pill, there are only 40 batters with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of .843 or higher. Youk is .861, Pedey .868, Jacoby .890, Gonzo .957, and Papi .987 are the Sox in that elite group. Among pitchers, there are only three with an OPS-against of .843 or higher: J.A. Happ .851, Bronson Arroyo .848, and John Lackey .843.

I guess it really doesnt matter how you rank the pitchers mentioned in this column. What matters is that I dont think any of us, in a five-game postseason series, would look forward to seeing any one of them pitching Game Three, a fate which may be facing the Sox.