Between Friday and Sunday in Boston, the Indians and Red Sox spurred a bunch of ottoneu auctions, but the ring leaders are two pitchers who, beyond their presence atop the auction list, have very little in common.
John Lackey is a starter in his 12th season (although he has only pitched in 11 of them after missing 2012; Cody Allen has only 52.1 career innings as a potential-back-of-the-bullpen arm in Cleveland. But both provide good reasons for ottoneu owners to bid on them.
Lackey’s start on Friday was pretty spectacular – 7 IP, 8 K, 3 BB, 2 H, and one unearned run allowed – made all the more impressive by the opposition. The Indians have been on a bit of a skid the last week or so, but still lead the majors in wRC+, posting a 115 (only one other team – division rival Detroit – is over 110). But, absent a brutal May 14 start at Tampa Bay, Lackey has been putting up good numbers all year. Even with that start (5 ER and 3 K over 4.1 IP), Lackey has posted a 2.72 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and just barely more K (40) than IP (39.2).
And this does not appear to a huge fluke. His SwStrk is up to it’s highest level since 2009 and his FIP (2.94) doesn’t quite match his ERA, but it is not far off either. The way the Red Sox are hitting the ball, those of you in 5×5 leagues have reason to expect his 3-4 record to improve as the season goes on.
If you need strike outs, I wouldn’t bank on Lackey continuing to put up a strike out every inning he pitches. Lackey’s career high K/9 was 8.57 and that was in 2005. While we all know that strike outs are en vogue this year, I’d still expect Lackey to settle in closer to 7.5 K/9 the rest of the way; a bit better than ZiPS or STEAMER project, but not up to his current pace. Lackey should, however, keep the ball in the yard and maintain solid rates – his WHIP will increase as his K’s come down, and his ERA will increase a bit as well, but he should be a solid rotation option for ottoneu teams, particularly if you can spot start him against weaker competition (his last start notwithstanding).
And while I won’t argue with Colin’s encouragement to go out and buy Allen, I think it is important to know what you are getting. Allen holds potential to be Cleveland’s closer of the future, but I don’t think that future is all too imminent. As of when I sat down to write this, the Indians had not yet announced a prognosis for Perez, but it is still quite possible he will be back before long and, if so, his recent hiccups will not pull him from his role.
On top of that, manager Terry Francona has stated that Vinnie Pestano – a popular pre-season pickup last year for owners looking to pick up cheap saves – will be stepping into the ninth inning. The more troublesome piece of news for potential Allen owners is the way Francona talked about the change. His comments suggested that he liked keeping the bullpen guys in order (“We have plenty of depth, but I still think having guys know (their roles) really helps.”). If Francona sticks with this logic, Pestano’s understudy would not be Allen, but Joe Smith, who had been the Tribe’s seventh inning guy and will now move into the eighth.
So if you are looking for saves, Allen is not the place to look. But for those of you who do not need saves, Allen has plenty to offer. His 11.57 K/9 is probably a bit high, but his minor league track record gives no reason to doubt that he can accrue whiffs with the best of them. And while his .255 BABIP and 80.2% LOB% may suggest some regression to his 2.31 ERA is in order, his 2.63 FIP is not exactly cause for concern.
The secret for Allen, as it is for so many pitchers, is going to be control. A guy who walked only 23 over 98 minor league innings, Allen walked 15 over 29 innings last year, but seems to have regained his location with only 7 walks in 23.1 IP this year. If he can keep that up, he can provide top-notch relief stats. And if not, he’ll still provide solid numbers with very strong K’s. Just don’t count on him seeing the ninth anytime soon.