John Lackey was left for dead in the fantasy game. How could you blame anyone for taking the position that he was a washed up, overpaid pitcher? I certainly wouldn't. In 2011 he had a 6.41 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over 28 starts and you could make an argument that he was the worst starting pitcher in baseball. Lackey then missed the entire 2012 season as he needed Tommy John surgery on his wing. Why would anyone have paid attention to him in 2013? Turns out we all should have.
The last time that Lackey was a solid pitchers was 2009 when he had a 3.83 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 176.1 innings. The last time he was at the height of his powers was in 2007 when he went 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and tossed 224 innings. But his performance had dipped each year from 2008-11 before he missed the 2012 season in it's entirety, and that was the biggest concern heading into the 2013 season – he appeared to be washed up. Look at his performance from 2008-12, it's nothing anyone would get excited about.
49-36, 4.56 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 6.71 K/9, 2/48 K/BB
League average stuff there no doubt, and with downward trends everywhere.
There was also another extremely troubling trend. Check out his K/9 marks from 2005-11. If this trend doesn't send a shiver down your spine not much will.
8.57, 7.86, 7.19, 7.16, 7.09, 6.53 and 6.08.
That's as bad a trend as I have ever seen. For 6-straight years his K/9 rate went down, moving from a borderline elite mark to well below average. That's the sign of an arm that is shot.
Take a look at his walk rate. The trend wasn't as bad, it only went up for 4-straight years from 2008-11, but it was as equally troubling trend leading to the same conclusion – his arm was shot.
2.09, 2.20, 2.40, 3.01, 3.15
Like I an everyone else out there thought, Lackey was done. Or was he?
Apparently Tommy John surgery is the key to everything. I jest of course, but it certainly helped to give him a new lease on life. Let's take a look at his 2013 effort with the rebuilt arm of his.
Lackey went just 10-13, but records don't concern me much.
His ERA was 3.52. That's nearly three runs below his 6.41 mark in 2011. It was also his lowest mark since 2007. That's a long time.
Lackey had a 1.16 WHIP in 2013. That was the first time his WHIP was under 1.25 since 2008. It was also the best mark of his 11 year career.
What about the K/9 rate? Not only did it bounce back, but it did so in a big way. Lackey had a 7.65 K/9 rate, the third best mark of his 11 seasons. It's also the highest the mark has been since 2006. Given that he had a mark of 6.34 over 375 innings in 2010-11 it's also shocking that it bounced back so hard. Tommy John surgery or not, it was a totally unexpected result.
I don't know if it was more shocking to see him jack up his K/9 rate or for him to post the best BB/9 mark of his career. Lackey walked more than three batters per nine in both 2010-11, and he had seen his walk rate increase in 4-straight years. So how on earth did he knock more than a full batter off his walk rate in 2013 and post a 1.90 BB/9 mark, the best of his 11 seasons? Right, doesn't make any sense at all.
Lackey posted a 1.34 GB/FB ratio. While that mark was barely above his 1.22 career mark, it was his best mark since 2005 and the second best mark of his long career. His groundball rate was 46.8 percent, a career best. His line drive rate was 18.2 percent which just so happened to be the second best mark of his career and his best mark since his 18.1 percent mark in 2006. Again totally unexpected.
Lackey threw 189.1 innings in 2013 proving pretty durable in his first year back from surgery. It was only the second time since 2007 that he threw 180 innings in a season. Again, at least slightly unexpected.
About the only down part of his 2013 effort was his homer rate. Lackey allowed 1.24 homers per nine innings, the third worst mark of his career, and only the second time the mark had been over 1.15 since 2004.
So what do we do with Lackey in 2014? If you look just at his 2013 performance you would be very interested. I can't recommend that you follow that path though. Lackey is 35, and 2013 be damned, his track record the past half decade suggests caution is warranted. I'm also pretty dubious that Tommy John surgery can fix all ails. It's true that replacing his worn out ligament certainly gave his arm a boost, but that doesn't explain a return of the strikeout or the massive reduction in his walk rate. It also doesn't inspire much confidence in me. Modern science is amazing, I'll certainly tip my hat to that, but my spidy-sense is telling me that there is little chance that Lackey will offer a repeat performance in 2014, and it's very likely he recedes to the level of being pretty much an average big league hurler. Don't be swayed too heavily by 2013 or you'll likely end up hanging out on disappointment alley.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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