A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, recently complained that John Lackey was killing his fantasy team. I told this friend that he had no one to blame but himself; Lackey has the ability to go deep into games and get wins, but often allows a bunch of runs and records very few strikeouts. While Lackey provides some real world value, he isn't a very smart fantasy pick.
But lately, I've realized that I was wrong. Lackey has no real world value.
What happened to Lackey last year has been discussed almost to death. He didn't pitch as poorly as his numbers suggest, and he was a victim of bad luck and crappy defense. Plus, his performance improved enormously in the second half of the season.
But who cares?! That was last year, and what's happening with Lackey right now can not be explained through advanced metrics or bullshit excuses. John Lackey sucks.
After taking the loss against Toronto, he is 2-5 with an ERA of 8.01; frankly, he's been much worse than those numbers show. In his 39.1 innings, he has allowed 35 earned runs and 53 hits! Read those numbers again and think about how bad they really are. In seven starts, he has allowed six or more runs six times!
And it's not just that he's losing, it's how he's losing.
On May 4, the Red Sox played a 13-inning game against the Angels in which they burned the entire bullpen. They really needed Lackey to come up big the following day. Lackey responded by getting absolutely pounded for eight runs in four innings and forcing an exhausted bullpen to finish it up. I bet I could give up eight runs and I wouldn't have to work as hard; can I have a contract?
His May 11 start against the Blue Jays was, in many ways, worse. In the bottom of the 7th, the Sox were down 4-3. Lackey hadn't pitched particularly well, but he kept the team in the game and they were in position to make a comeback. But what followed was the worst thing to happen in Canada since free health care.
After walking Corey Patterson, Bautista hit a rocket into left field. Carl Crawford misread the ball off the bat and got turned around. The ball hit off the wall for a single. Lackey put his arms up in exasperation, obviously furious that his teammate didn't catch the missile.
But he seemed to buckle down and was just a few good pitches from getting out of the inning unscathed, until up to the plate strode David Cooper. Cooper was a rookie with only 28 at-bats, but Lackey still walked him to force in a run, then allowed a 2-run double to John McDonald. When it was all over, Lackey had allowed nine runs on nine hits and the game was out of reach.
Lackey should have seen Cooper as an out and gone aggressively after him, pounding the strike zone, rather than nibbling and handing the Jays a run. But what stood out to me was something that Lackey has shown a lot of this season; his bad attitude. John Lackey has always been a whiner who complains and barks when umpires don't think a pitch five inches from the plate is a strike. You're not Greg Maddux, John.
Pitching poorly every now and then can be excused. Showing up your teammates cannot. What John Lackey fails to realize is when you allow this many balls to be hit hard, a good number of them are going to fall in. Crawford didn't drop a lazy fly ball, he misread a screaming line drive. If I were Crawford, I might have a few words for Mr. Lackey:
"Sorry I didn't catch that bullet, John, but who allowed the other 8 hits and five walks? Wasn't me. In fact, I got two hits tonight and my numbers are gradually improving, unlike yours. Maybe at some point I will be hitting over .320, which is what batters are hitting off of you."
Asked why he was still in the game after walking Cooper, Lackey explained that he'd had good luck against the next batter, McDonald: "Everybody's had success with him in the past. You can't give up hits like that to him when you have other guys in that lineup who can hurt you."
Everybody has had success with him? McDonald had a home run and a double off you, John. Not "everybody," just everybody else.
This makes me ask: who is John Lackey? When the Red Sox signed the former Angels ace, I was excited because I knew what he brought: a good moving fastball, a nasty curve, pinpoint control and a warrior's mentality. He had pitched on the biggest stage under pressure and would take personal responsibility for the outcome of a game.
But who is this guy? A guy who nibbles at the edges of the strike zone, walking batters and wondering why calls don't go his way. Or hangs nothing curveballs to bottom-of-the-order hitters, putting men on for the meat of the lineup, at which point he decides he is a gunslinging Texan who needs to show off his big balls. It's pretty hard to challenge hitters when your fastball is 89 MPH over the middle of the plate. That, as Dennis Eckersley would say, is salad.
After the game, Lackey said, "Everything sucks in my life right now, to be honest with you." He wouldn't elaborate about what sounded like a personal problem, but rumors circulate that John's wife is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. That's no laughing matter and isn't something Lackey should be judged for, but he can not allow it to affect his performance on the field or how he treats his team mates.
John, you can either block the rest of the world out so you can pitch or, if your off-field troubles are too distracting, take a leave of absence. No one would blame you. Hell, put yourself on the DL or something, because the team favored to win the AL pennant is under .500 and they won't make a comeback if one of the starters is an automatic "L." Take a page from your ace, Jon Lester. He also lost to Toronto this past week, but he never blames his teammates and always takes responsibility for his own game.
It's time for John Lackey to pitch to his pay grade, because Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, Yankees signings that I laughed at, are pitching far better. In fact, the Sox have the oldest pitcher in Red Sox history, Tim Wakefield, sitting out in the pen and dreaming of getting his job back. I always defended Lackey and gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I'm running out of patience.
I know exactly what he is. Right now, that would be the number one reason the Red Sox can't get on a roll. And also, a mouth breather.