When the Red Sox signed John Lackey, nobody was thinking about him winning the Cy Young. He didn’t come to Boston to put personal awards on his mantle — he came to put another banner on the Fenway Park façade.
Manager Terry Francona now has more options to give the ball to in pursuit of another title. With Lackey, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox could trot out one of the deadliest three-man rotations in playoff history. Should Clay Buchholz take the proverbial next step or Daisuke Matsuzaka find the form that made him a Cy Young threat in 2008, Boston could be nearly untouchable come October — assuming the offense can push a couple of runs across the plate.
The Red Sox expect to get their money’s worth from Lackey after shelling out $82.5 million. But can he win a Cy Young in his first year in Boston? Anything is possible.
Lackey has been a viable Cy Young candidate before, finishing third in the voting in 2007. During the '07 campaign, Lackey put up an AL-best ERA of 3.01, going 19-9 before his Angels got swept in the ALDS by his current employers. The only two pitchers to receive more votes than Lackey that year were Beckett and eventual winner CC Sabathia. Lackey even received one first-place vote, but to win a Cy Young in 2010, he’ll have to convince a few more critics.
The 2007 season was Lackey's only All-Star campaign and the one time he was even considered for a Cy Young. Since then, the 6-foot-6 right-hander has seen his ERA jump to 3.75 in 2008 and 3.83 in 2009. It’s not as if he's putting up ERAs in the Tomo Ohka range, but those kind of numbers don't win awards.
More alarming then his climbing ERA could be Lackey's recent injury history. He failed to top the 180-innings mark in either of the last two seasons after starting both years on the DL with arm troubles. Lackey returned and still pitched well, and he's only 31, but you can never underestimate the toll injuries take on long-term velocity or stamina.
While the Red Sox hope Lackey can log 220-plus innings over 33 or 34 starts, the team will not be sunk if he misses a start here or there. Tim Wakefield is still waiting in the wings to take the ball and throw his knuckler.
That puts Lackey in a very different situation than almost every recent Cy Young winner. Take Sabathia off of those '07 Indians, and they lose their swagger. Take Johan Santana off of the Twins in either of his Cy Young seasons and they counter with a spot start for Boof Bonser. Even last year, if you take Zack Greinke off the Royals for an extended period of time, Kansas City could have lost the will to support a professional sports team.
Lackey lacks that dominating quality that makes him irreplaceable. He has a workhorse mentality and is more than capable of being the ace of a staff and a perennial All-Star, but when he's on the mound, he doesn't have that quality that makes baseball fans say, "I am not missing this game."
Santana has it. Sabathia has it. When Pedro Martinez last brought a Cy Young to Fenway, he definitely had it. The Boston pressure cooker could help create that extra gear, but if Lackey hasn't discovered it by now, it may never happen.
With Lackey, what you will get is a model of consistency. He will keep the ball in the park (less than one homer per nine innings) and let the Red Sox' potentially elite defense do its job. Lackey will give you at least 10 wins, an ERA under 4.00 and around seven strikeouts per nine innings. You can definitely win a World Series with those numbers. Winning a Cy Young? That's a different story.
NESN.com will answer one Red Sox question every day through Feb. 23.
Friday, Feb. 18: Who should bat in the No. 3 and No. 4 holes?
Sunday, Feb. 20: Are there any leadoff options besides Jacoby Ellsbury?
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