John Lackey certainly hasn’t been the pitcher that the Red Sox hoped they would be getting when they signed him for over $80 million this past winter. As an Angel, Lackey had consistently run xFIPs right near the 4.00 mark with stable rates in strikeouts, walks and ground balls. 2010 John Lackey however has fewer strikeouts and a lot more walks raising his xFIP to 4.63 coming into play today. That is the highest mark of Lackey’s career and does not portend well for the next four seasons to Boston.
Lackey’s pitch types and frequencies have not changed much if at all and signing with Boston did not mean a change in leagues. While the AL East might appear to pose stiffer competition than the AL West did, when discussing an individual pitcher, the sample sizes vary too much to be generalized. Lackey’s average hitter faced his season had a .737 OPS while it was .755 and .766 the previous two seasons with Anaheim. Even adjusting for the overall decline in offense this season, Lackey has faced weaker hitters in 2010 than in either 2009 or 2008 and yet his performance has declined noticeably.
Lackey’s struggles can be parsed further by examining his splits. His performance against right-handed hitters remains close to his established levels while he has struggled mightily against southpaws this season. Lackey’s strikeout to walk rate versus righties was 3.0 in 2008, was 2.9 last year and is at 2.9 this season. Versus a lefty it has slipped from 3.6 in 2008 and 3.1 in 2009 all the way to 1.3 in 2010. John Lackey isn’t facing significantly more lefties this season than he did in the past, but perhaps he should be given his collapse against them this year.
As always with splits, it’s a small sample and more time will be needed before being able to see if this is a mere blip or if this is something that will severely hamper his ability going forward. Not being able to retire other handed hitters will lead to teams more dramatically stacking their lineups and also makes the chances for a return of the 4.00 xFIP version of Lackey much less likely.