Maybe this is John Lackey‘s baseball penance.
The Red Sox right-hander, who has been arguably the club’s best, most consistent and most durable pitcher in this turnaround 2013 season, just can’t seem to buy a win. No team in baseball has more wins than the Red Sox do right now. Yet Lackey’s seven wins are the second-fewest in the Boston rotation, and his nine losses are the most on the team.
This is hardly a true reflection of the way he’s pitched this season, though. The big Texan is only 7-9, sure, but in what’s become a year of redemption, perhaps no one has bounced back more than Lackey. He’s averaging about 6 1/3 innings per start, and his ERA now sits at 3.21 after giving up two runs over six-plus innings against Houston. Naturally, Lackey took the loss in a 2-0 defeat to the lowly Astros. In the process, however, he struck out 10, most of those coming after he appeared to tweak his ankle in the second inning.
The 10 punchouts give Lackey 118 for the season. Lackey’s 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings is his best rate since 2005, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.37 is by far the best of his career, eclipsing his career-high rate of 3.44 in 2007.
This is all more impressive given Lackey’s most recent history. His Red Sox tenure has been marred with unreached expectations. Lackey was given a huge deal and hadn’t necessarily lived up to that. His 2010 season was decent, but it all went downhill from there. Lackey was abysmal in 2011, but much of that was from an arm injury that led to Tommy John surgery, wiping away his entire 2012 season.
Despite all of that, Lackey has bounced back this season and has been a rock in the Boston starting rotation. He’s taken his turn quite regularly, as he’s been known to do, and he’s done so pretty effectively. He’s given up more than three runs just four times this season. He gave up more than three runs 15 times in 2011, giving up at least eight earned in three starts by May 5. Even the sabermetricians would likely agree that Lackey has been really good this season. His 3.21 FIP (fielder independent pitching) is his best since ’07, a year he finished third in Cy Young voting.
But then again, you could also just watch Lackey pitch, too. There’s life on his fastball, bite on his breaking ball. He’s been, in a word, sharp — for the entire season.
Still, the wins aren’t there for Lackey. Monday’s start against Houston marked yet another disappointing product, despite the fact that the process was impressive again. But the Sox bats went quiet, which is nothing new for Lackey in 2013. The righty’s run support — 3.45 runs per game — is the fourth-worst in the American League. Of course, this is a Red Sox team that leads the major leagues in runs scored and is averaging 5.3 runs per game in games not started by No. 41.
Maybe the baseball gods are seeking retribution. During that nightmarish 2011 campaign, Lackey’s demonstrative behavior on the field was matched and surpassed only by that off the field when dealing with the media and the like. He was a highly unlikable figure, and he (perhaps unfairly) became the central whipping boy for a team that suffered one of the worst collapses in the history of sports.
However, he came back to the club this year looking slim and fit. He’s been a model citizen, both on and off the field. We have to assume that he’s been a great teammate, which is something his hardball brothers swore he was, even in the pitcher’s darkest days.
Now, if only he could get a win or two.