Sunday, July 11, 2010

Second-Half Key: John Lackey

The season is now officially, unofficially, statistically, and practically halfway over, and I think it's time to put Josh Beckett and John Lackey in the same sentence again like we did all preseason. Because let's face it: Lackey's transition to the AL East in 2010 is very similar to Beckett's transition to the division in 2006. Both have misleadingly-good W-L records over the first half of the season, but both have pitched as poorly as their ERAs would indicate. There are some major differences: Beckett had a home run problem, Lackey has a location problem. And both have been bailed out by the team's offense, receiving an inordinate amount of run support for some reason.

It is absolutely crucial that unlike Beckett, who replaced the home runs with walks the second half of the season as luck finally caught up to him, that Lackey makes the necessary adjustments the second half of the season. If he does not, the team will suffer a similar fate to its 2006 fate: Third place.

I don't know if we will ever see Lackey's numbers return to what they were when he was in Los Angeles, and I think that is because he is facing deeper lineups (i.e. New York and Tampa) a lot more often. He is no longer an overpowering strikeout pitcher, and he hasn't been since 2007 when he started to run into injury problems. That's fine--he can be crafty and still effective. He had been that way for three seasons. But the bottom line is, he's going to be giving up hits. You should not be surprised if you see seven hits over seven innings from John Lackey. He did this a lot over the last few years, and he's done it a lot over the 2010 season as well.

Facing good lineups instead of decent lineups in the West, however, Lackey will be seeing what he has seen: More of these hits. His H/9IP is almost at eleven, where it hovered around 9 the last few seasons. It's important that these hits are spread out over the innings, instead of seeing 3, 4, or 5 hits in one inning. We've seen a lot of that, and that's why he has straight-up not been effective this year. This is harder to do when you're facing lineups with fewer automatic outs, and there are fewer automatic outs in the East than anywhere else. But if you're making $82 million, you have to make the proper adjustments. Being a "bulldog" (my dad's sarcastic term) and lasting 6 innings giving up 5 runs on nine hits equates to being Tim Wakefield. John Lackey is not being paid to be Tim Wakefield.

Looking deeper into Lackey's numbers, there are two other things to be concerned about:
-Doubles. He's given up 33 this year; 34 all year last year. Some of these might be grounders down the line, but you don't need to watch every game to know that Lackey has gotten whacked for a lot of these doubles as well.
-Walks. Saturday's game is the most glaring example, but the guy has to find the strike zone. It doesn't look like he's going through the same thing at Matsuzaka, being afraid to attack the strike zone, but he has to make some adjustments. If he is giving up a hit or two every inning, having guys on base due to free passes when it happens is completely unacceptable.

John Lackey has excelled throughout his career because he's been able to make adjustments. He started running into injury problems in 2008, and that first year he was taken deep a career-high 26 times. In 2009 he curbed the home run totals. Now, somehow, Lackey has to make sure that if he's giving up hits, the damage caused by the hits is minimized. Get guys out. Don't walk guys. Make guys earn those hits, and make sure they're singles that aren't hit hard. And bear down when guys are already on base.

If Lackey can make the proper adjustments, this team can very well make the playoffs and he can very well win 18-20 games. If he does not, we might see a reprise of Josh Beckett 2006.

Other fun stuff:
-Sunday was a good win. Good to see Matsuzaka not dick around. They are now 5-6 since the San Francisco series when the whole team got injured. My goal was to have them go 12-15 between that series and July 31st. Now all they have to do is go 7-9 to keep them into contention when the major leaguers take over again.
-Getting no-hit through six by a guy with a 7.30 ERA is not a good thing, though. I think people might be figuring out the minor leaguers' scouting reports.
-If Beltre's hamstring is a major problem, I'm taking a three-month vacation from this blog.
-The comments made by 46 this weekend were very interesting. Not sure how much of it is actually true, but if the part about how the Red Sox didn't want to "MRI a bruise" is true, the team and its medical staff should be absolutely embarrassed. You sell freaking membership cards but don't want to shell out a couple hundred bucks to MRI one of your key players? What a joke. If I feel so inclined, I might continue on this topic a little more later on this week.

Y'all have a good all-star break. We will have some stuff up here all week. Being laid up on the couch reminded me how easy it is to write when you have nothing else to do. No wonder the NESCAC professors tell their English majors to not get jobs.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

DV

Daisuke's start yesterday is just another reason why watching him is so frustrating--we know he CAN pitch well and efficiently, it's just that he rarely seems to do it.

As for getting no-hit through five innings yesterday, obviously it's not a good thing. But I heard that players were really affected by some crazy shadows that were created by a roof malfunction (I think it only got half-open or something like that) which made it inordinately difficult to pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand. At least I'll tell myself that until Pedroia, Martinez, Ellsbury, Hermida, Varitek, Beckett, Buchholz, you, me, Larry Bird, and the 1988 Boston Bruins come back from injury.

John Lackey? Truth be told I was never that impressed with him when he was in Anaheim. Last year's playoff start seemed to be more a product of the Sox line-up being weak than anything else. I think your analysis is pretty much on the money, hopefully the guy picks it up in the second half, because you have to imagine that he's not going to get this type of run support all year.

--the Gunn

PF said...

I just had a huge comment get lost, and I'm not rewriting. Main points:

- the absurd amount of time placed on run prevention and the fact that 21 teams have lower era's and no team has been better offensively has to be one of the more interesting/comical storylines of 2010. And the offense isn't a fenway park two-step as it has been in recent years, at least last I checked they were scoring on the road. A big part of fixing this is lackey, not because he's been the biggest problem (hello beckett, dasiuke, and the bullpen) but because he has the best chance to be better moving forward.

- I don't doubt that lackey has given up his fair share of screamers, but it doesn't help that he pitches half his games at fenway regarding the doubles. If you put too much on a bunt it has a chance to get off the wall and you have a runner standing on second. Lackey lamented this type of thing himself as a visiting pitcher. The red sox don't lead the league in doubles seemingly every year because they are that much better at hitting them than everybody else. I mean, they are already up 29 doubles on the second best team in that category, which is just absurd. Lackey has allowed 33% more doubles at home this year despite pitching markedly better at home on the whole. This doesn't account for the entire increase in this department, which I agree is a problem for a guy who already gives up a lot of hits, but again it doesn't help.

- lackey's been much better at home than on the road despite home being a statistically tougher place to pitch. K/bb is a very respectable approx. 2.5 at home and is under 1 on the road which is horrendeous. I don't know why this is (big right field givng him confidence to pitch to contact as a righty) but fixing it would go a long way towards doing what dv is talking about here, which is better overall production.

- we know they haven't pitched well, but how have the sox been defensively? I don't know the answer, but I can't imagine it's been as good as advertised in the winter.

TimC said...

"Not as good as advertised in the winter" is as good of a description as anyone could have come up with for the Red Sox defense through the first half. Granted, some of the issues can be pinned on the acquisition of new players needing to learn Fenway and the general inability of some of the better defensive players to stay healthy. Still, blame needs to be assigned for a defensively-minded team failing to acquire a catcher that could even be described as average.

I have more faith in Dice than most, as we all know. My source of optimism this week is that he now has four start under his belt since returning from the DL and, like he did in his first stretch of starts, looks to be getting more comfortable as he gets into a pitching groove. As long as he keeps taking the mound every fifth day, Dice is, in my mind, a more likely bet to finish the year strong than Lackey. But, without one or the other picking up their game in the next two weeks, the Sox could be all but out of it come August 1.

jason said...

whos everyone like for the home run derby? personally i would prefer anyone who is not on my fantasy team so it doesnt tire them out since i have half the players this may be unlikely