Last season, John Lackey was selected as the 244th overall player in Yahoo! leagues according to Fantasy Pros. He wasn’t auctioned frequently enough to show up on their auction values report, so we can safely say that he cost $1 or wasn’t drafted in nearly all leagues. Lackey rewarded the few owners who took a flier with a $8 performance according to Zach Sanders. Owners were slow to buy into Lackey as a viable option. As late as September 6th, his ownership rate was at just 61 percent in Yahoo! leagues and that may have been his season high.
Lackey missed the 2012 season due to injury and was terrible in 2011, so owners can be forgiven for leaving him off their draft board. However, he quickly established himself as one of the better pitchers available on the waiver wire. Again, owners were understandably hesitant to roster a player who hadn’t seen any level of success since 2010, but he should have at least been streamed, as I suggested week after week in my Daily Grind column.
From the start of the season, Lackey showed a strong whiff (9.8% SwStr) and walk rate (1.90 BB/9) which led to a good strikeout rate (7.65 K/9). These solid peripherals led to a 3.52 ERA and 3.49 xFIP. He did show a bit of a home run problem (13.3% HR/FB), but that makes only three out of 11 big league seasons in which Lackey’s had trouble with the long ball. That smells random.
Lackey was a bit unfortunate with his win-loss record of 10-13. From a fantasy perspective, that held back his solid performance in the other three starting pitcher categories. Since he was returning from Tommy John surgery, he was handled with care and didn’t pitch deep into games early in the season. He didn’t pitch more than seven innings until July 2nd and only made three such starts during the regular season, including one complete game in September. His velocity also increased subtly from April to July, which jives with the story of a pitcher who gained strength as the season went along.
Lackey throws a lot of sliders in all counts, which when combined with his recent injury history makes him a risk to miss time. Jeff Zimmerman‘s disabled list model estimates a 58 percent chance that he spends time on the DL next season. Given that the 35-year-old should remain rather cheap next draft season, the high injury risk isn’t much of an issue.
Speaking of throwing a lot of sliders, Lackey’s pitch usage is one of my favorite parts of his game. most pitchers have reliable patterns – they will use certain pitches early in the count, when they are ahead, and when they are behind. With Lackey, there’s very little change in his pitch usage based on count. That makes it hard for hitters who like to guess to sit on certain pitches in certain counts.
Lackey isn’t a young, high upside pitcher like, say, Yordano Ventura. There is no reason to project any improvement on his 2013 line and mild regression is the likeliest outcome. We should probably expect his whiff rate and walk rate to both regress towards his career norms. With that would come an expected ERA in the high 3’s to low 4’s. If he remains healthy, he may be better positioned to win more games, since he’ll average more innings per start.
As previously mentioned, he should come fairly cheaply as a guy who can fill out a fantasy rotation. A cost around $5 seems like a reasonable estimate this early in the winter, and that’s probably a high estimate. It’s possible that his strong postseason performance will boost his draft cost slightly in some leagues, especially those with Red Sox fans. Generally speaking, Lackey gives you a shot at average production across four categories, so he’s probably best suited to owners who end up with several elite pitchers and just need a couple reliable veterans to eat innings.
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