Re: Lackey is an issue
posted at 6/24/2011 2:32 PM EDT
When John Lackey said in spring training he felt good about the way he'd pitched down the stretch last season, he wasn't blowing smoke. He really did pitch well down the stretch last season -- and it wasn't just his ERA.
In the final 12 starts Lackey made in August and September, a span of 79 2/3 innings, he struck out 75 hitters and walked 22 -- a ratio of 3.41. He threw strikes 65 percent of the time. He got swings and misses on 9.2 percent of the pitches he threw, and he got 10 or more swings and misses in a game seven times.
Lackey might be a pitch-to-contact pitcher, but no pitcher can be effective if he doesn't miss bats. Lackey missed bats down the stretch last season, just as he missed bats earlier in his career:
2005: 10.6 percent swings and misses
2006: 9.7 percent
2007: 8.9 percent
2008: 8.6 percent
2009: 8.6 percent
After a rough start to last season in the swings-and-misses category, he righted the ship late and figured out a way to miss bats again in August and September. It wasn't just a matter of lineups, either; he got 11 swings and misses in a late August start at Tampa Bay and 11 more swings and misses in his final start of the season against New York.
So far this season, however, he's been unable to carry that momentum forward. He's elicited swings and misses on a career-worst 6.3 percent of pitches he's thrown, and he's elicited 10 or more swings and misses just twice -- including once during the 11-0 shellacking he absorbed at the hands of his old Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim team.
His stuff just isn't fooling anyone. Opposing hitters are chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging at pitches in the zone more, making more contact and hitting the ball harder. He's giving up line drives on 22.2 percent of his balls and play and fly balls on 41.4 percent of his balls in play, both the worst numbers he's seen in at least half a decade. He's getting more fly balls than ground balls for the first time in his career.
His fastball has been terrible. His curveball has been terrible. His changeup has been terrible. The only pitch he's thrown with much effectiveness has been his slider, the pitch with which he's elicited 32 percent of his swings and misses this season. When he struck out Jesus Guzman after the first rain delay on Wednesday afternoon, it was on a slider in the dirt.
As much as will be made -- and has been made -- about the way Lackey handles his disasters after the fact, the real issue is how he stops them from happening entirely. He's too important to the future of the Red Sox team -- and $45.75 million is too much money -- for him to be written off for the next three years.
He has to figure out how to start fooling hitters and missing bats again