Sometimes a pitcher’s win/loss record is an arbitrary statistic that fails to represent the work of the man behind it.
In John Lackey’s case, this is one of those times.
An 8-11 record wouldn’t suggest good work, but Lackey has pitched brilliantly this season after a rocky start with the club in his first few years. In 2010, he posted a 14-11 record, but that came with an ERA above four. His 2011 campaign was the worst of his career as he worked his way to an ERA of 6.41 and found himself in the doghouse with Red Sox fans. To make matters worse, he then got hurt and needed Tommy John surgery, missing the entire 2012 season. Boston was unsure what to expect for this year, but Lackey has surpassed all expectations.
Besides the early scare in Toronto where I thought he dismantled his elbow, Lackey’s right arm has looked great. In 147 2/3 innings pitched, he’s maintained a 3.17 ERA with 130 strikeouts, and just 32 walks. When the Red Sox needed someone to step up, he took the reigns and has arguably been the ace of the staff since Clay Buchholz went down. In a tough stretch of starts this month, Lackey went up against some very quality opponents, including Kanas City (when they were hot), New York (when they were healthy), and the Dodgers (during their 45-10 stretch), and put up some of his best numbers. Factor in his start against Houston, which I left out of “quality opponents” for a reason, and his monthly totals so far look like this; 27 2/3 innings pitched, 9 earned runs, 22 strikeouts, and a 2.93 ERA. When things are going good, he’s been dominant, and when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he still manages to keep the Red Sox in the game. Limiting damage and pitching quality starts consistently have been key for his success, the only problem is that one of baseball’s best offenses hasn’t been showing him any love.
Lackey receives the 12th fewest run support in the Majors at 3.39 runs per game. He’s given up two or less earned runs, and lost, in seven starts this year alone. Perfect example, Friday night against the Dodgers, he gives Boston a complete game, three-hit performance, and loses. Gave up one hard hit ball to Hanley Ramirez for a two-run homer, and that was all she wrote. For some odd reason, the Sox tend to look really flat on offense when it’s his turn in the rotation. It’s not even like he’s matching up with aces in these starts where he pitches so well either. Friday night was Ricky Nolasco, the Houston game was Brett Oberholtzer, earlier in the year was Kevin Correia, Jose Alvarez, and the list goes on, and on with mediocrity. It’s frustrating for me, so I can only imagine what it’s like for Lackey.
Sometimes pitcher’s get lucky. Max Scherzer is 19-1, and you’d be naive to think his league-leading 5.81 runs per game doesn’t have a whole lot to do with that (so does his .91 WHIP). Chris Sale is 9-12, and every bit as good as Scherzer is, but he gets about two runs less per game. You see where I’m going with this. Is it fair? No, but it’s baseball.