What's wrong with John Lackey?
Is it personal issues, or is Lackey just not cut out for the glare of Boston and the heat of the AL East?
In his last outing, Lackey allowed 14 base-runners and nine earned runs in 6.2 innings. If a pitcher puts that many guys on base, it's likely he'll give up at least six runs every time.
The right-hander has allowed a combined 17 runs in his last two starts, a 10.2-inning span during which he's struck out just two batters.
Lackey has made six starts this season; just two of them were quality starts. He is the rotation's equivalent of JD Drew; an overpaid underachiever.
This is Lackey's line thus far in 2011:
Innings: 39.1 (avg. 5.6 per start)
If Lackey were to pitch 23 consecutive scoreless innings (which isn't going to happen), he'd bring his ERA to 5.00 or under.
He's in such a deep hole, it's hard to envision how he gets out of it. And his mental issues only compound whatever technical/mechanical issues he is facing.
Lackey revealed in spring training that his wife, Krista, was battling breast cancer.
After his recent, horrendous outing, Lackey told the media, "Everything (bleeps) in my life right now to be honest with you."
The guy sounds utterly confused, even lost.
"I don't know what the hell happened tonight," he said after the game. "I threw the ball way better than last start. I don't know."
Of his season, Lackey said, "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I don't know."
He's right. This really isn't a surprise at all.
Lackey's decline is not new or sudden; it's been going on for years. Since leading the AL with a 3.01 ERA in 2007, Lackey's ERA has gone up each successive year: 3.75, 3.83, 4.40 and 8.01 this season.
The size of his five-year, $82 million contract only adds to the pressure and the expectations. The fans feel that they are paying Lackey's salary through ticket sales, concessions and the like.
Regular Joe's who are making forty-grand a year expect a guy like Lackey to earn his pay, just as they do.
Though he's never been a power pitcher, Lackey's fastball has lost some zip in the middle innings, something that hasn't gone unnoticed.
"I think his stuff has been inconsistent," general manager Theo Epstein said of Lackey. "His velocity has been there more early in games. He hasn't necessarily held the velocity through the middle and late innings as much as he has in the past."
Epstein said that Red Sox coaches are analyzing everything ("stuff, command, movement, mechanical issues") in an attempt to help Lackey and straighten him out.
Lackey was skipped in the rotation earlier this season and he didn't like it one bit. But apparently it motivated him in a way that his huge contract doesn't, because he responded quite well in his next start in Oakland.
Perhaps the Red Sox will give Lackey a mental health break, a family/personal issues break or whatever they want to call it. It won't hurt the team. In fact, at this point it could only help.
Let's face it, Tim Wakefield or Felix Doubront couldn't possibly be any worse.
Hopefully, whatever Lackey's issues are, they will soon be resolved for the better. It's assumed that all of this has to do with his wife's health. But that is merely an assumption. Who knows what else is going on with Lackey?
After all, he did say, "Everything in my life sucks right now." That's a very opaque statement and it sounds like an awful lot is going on.
Even if Lackey's issues are soon resolved, we will eventually return to the fact that he is a 10-year veteran with a lifetime ERA just under four. And, as noted, that ERA has been steadily climbing for five straight years.
Lackey is way past the developmental stage. This is who he is, What you see is what you get.
Lackey has never won 20 games or struck out 200 batters in a season. Additionally, he made 30 starts and pitched 200 innings just once in the previous three seasons.
The Red Sox knew all of this when they signed him.
And if performance wasn't enough, Lackey has a bad habit of showing up his teammates on the mound with his facial contortions and body language when things don't go his way—which is often. Every ball that gets through the infield or finds its way into the gap seems to be someone else's fault in his mind.
You have to wonder, how long before he loses his teammates?
Get used to it Red Sox fans; there are more than three-and-a-half years remaining on that five-year, $82.5 million contract.
Sean is a freelance writer and creator of Kennedy's Commentary, a dedicated Red Sox blog. He has written for Baseball Digest and other magazines, newspapers and Websites.
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