John Lackey’s Strong Second Half Provides Some Reason for Optimism Heading Into 2011

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November 17, 2010

John Lackey's Strong Second Half Provides Some Reason for Optimism Heading Into 2011 John Lackey came to Boston an $82.5 million man and led one of the sport?s keystone franchises in innings pitched, starts and quality starts in his first season. Such a debut might suggest he is a superstar in this town, given the table in the window at the finest chophouses in town and swarmed by autograph-seekers when he heads out for a gallon of milk. Heck, why would he be buying milk? His posse would take care of such chores.

The reality of Lackey and his short time in Boston is nothing of the sort, which causes us to wonder what will John Lackey?s second season in Boston bring?

The reasons for Lackey?s lack of glitz and glam are threefold. For one, he?s a rather quiet family man driven by a desire to win and not to satisfy Sully on the stool. Two, the expectations that come with a contract like Lackey?s, especially in a town like Boston, often call for something a little bit closer to Cy Young Award contention than a guy who allowed 316 base runners in 215 innings pitched. Finally, nestled amid what many pitchers would consider a quality season was a gaggle of rough outings, statistical depressions and an inability to ever string together a truly dominant run that lasted long enough for fans to take note and say, “Wow, this guy is worth every penny.”

However, hidden beneath what some saw, correctly so, as an off year for the big right-hander was a second half in which it appeared as if Lackey adjusted to whatever had been bothering him, whether it be the expectations, hard luck or just the adjustment to a new team on a new coast in a power-packed division.

Very quietly (it was hard to notice because each time he struggled the critics got louder), Lackey posted a respectable 3.97 ERA after the All-Star break while showcasing vast improvements in several peripheral categories. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was an unsightly 1.48 before the break, but 3.38 after, far above his career norms. Opponents? OPS was more than 100 points lower following intermission. Five of his final six starts were of the quality variety. His WHIP was a scant 1.026 in September/October.

Even factoring in the up-and-down first half, Lackey had some other season numbers on which to hang his hat. His line drive rate was lower than his career average while his ground ball rate was higher than the norm, lending some truth to the thought that some balls were simply finding holes. He threw 215 1/3 innings without a hitch after two seasons limited by injury. And the five wins he saw blown by the Boston bullpen was two more than he had ever had in a season with the Angels (six of the 15 runners Lackey left for the pen subsequently scored, compared to seven of 55 in his final five years with Anaheim).

Undoubtedly, 2010 season was Lackey?s worst since 2004, when he was 14-13 with a 4.67 ERA with Anaheim. But the manner in which it ended indicates that while he won?t have a posse of hangers-on or a red carpet ride to the Red Sox Hall of Fame, his second season in Boston should be a much smoother campaign.

Each day of November, NESN.com will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.

Tuesday, Nov. 16 Will the Fenway Park sellout streak continue for another 81 games?

Thursday, Nov. 18: Can David Ortiz deliver back-to-back 30-home run, 100-RBI seasons?

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