With the Chicago Cubs constantly looking for more pitching, John Lackey seems to be the forgotten man. Signed last offseason as the No. 3 starter, Cubs’ fans were excited about his playoff pedigree. But it didn’t work out as planned.
When the Chicago Cubs signed John Lackey last season, it was a big win as they had stripped away Jason Heyward and Lackey from their rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. The other bit of importance from the signing was his experience in the postseason for a team hoping to make it back again. The Cubs fulfilled their end by winning the World Series, but Lackey came up short on his end in the playoffs.
While Lackey’s 2016 didn’t seem to be that spectacular, it wasn’t as bad as many people believed. While Lackey was just 11-8 overall, the Cubs did win 17 of his 29 starts. And his 3.35 ERA was the third-lowest of his career (3.01 in ’07 with Angels, 2.77 last year with STL). But the “bulldog” in Lackey seemed to get him in trouble more often than not as he wouldn’t back down from hitters.
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He’s a fastball/slider pitcher who will work in a change, curve and sinker. But when it comes down to it, Lackey is very likely to challenge hitters with a fastball. And last season hitters made him pay. His BB/9 were 2.5 and his HR/6 were 1.1. The combination often times left Lackey down in the game early. But he could manage to level things out and keep the Cubs in the game.
So what should the Cubs expect from Lackey this year? Kyle Hendricks is the clear No. 3 starter–and possibly No. 2–depending on Jake Arrieta. But the Cubs will still need Lackey to get the job done and help to get them to the playoffs. So can he do it?
Strong down the stretch, but a terrible finish
While he did miss some time with injury, he was a better pitcher in the second half, sans the playoffs. In 71 2/3 innings, he posted a 2.76 ERA. And in August and September, his ERA was just 2.44 while allowing opponents to hit just .207.
It was the playoffs–when the Cubs were hoping for him to shine–that Lackey did anything but. In his three starts in the playoffs, Lackey posted a 4.85 ERA while pitching just 13 innings. After the Cubs left Jason Hammel of the postseason roster, a few had to have questioned if that was the right move.
So the Cubs enter 2017 with three quality starters, but two question marks at the back end of the rotation. The Cubs are bringing enough former starters into camp to field three full pitching staffs. So the hope is maybe a few of these guys will stick with the team in the minors, add depth for the playoffs. As for Lackey? He doesn’t have to be great. In fact, all he has to do is match what he did last year and the Cubs should be alright on that front
But it’s only February, and we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit. The Cubs have time to work things out with this rotation, and it’s a long season as it is. But our “inner World Series defending champions” can’t help it.