Through the season’s first month, Chicago Cubs right-hander John Lackey hasn’t been terrible – but he’s far from the pitcher he once was.
Just two years ago, John Lackey was one of the biggest feel-good stories in all of baseball. Of course, his season ended pitching against the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, but that’s neither here nor there.
The veteran right-hander led the league, making 33 starts for the St. Louis Cardinals, pitching to a 2.77 earned run average – the best mark of his career. While he wasn’t quite as dominant in his first season on the North Side, he still turned in a very respectable body of work for Joe Maddon.
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But with one month of the 2017 campaign in the books, it’s clear Lackey hasn’t been the same pitcher.
That’s not to say he lacks value. He still brings both pluses and minuses to the table for Chicago. It’s just that the minuses are starting to outweigh the positives at this point.
Avoiding the long-ball? Not so much
In each of his April starts, Lackey pitched exactly six innings. Of course, he got drastically different results in those five starts, as well.
To open the season, Lackey allowed four earned over his first 12 innings pitched. Opponents batted just .222 against him in these two games – a promising sign for any hurler.
Since then, it’s been a drastically different story for the veteran and three-time World Series champion. In each of his last three outings, Lackey has allowed a minimum of four earned runs, serving up six homers, as well.
Opponents’ batting averages have spiked, as well. In his last three times out, opposing hitters are squaring up the ball with authority, batting nearly .300 against him. His FIP isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, either, coming in at an unsightly 4.93.
Still positives to take away
One would be hard-pressed to find a pitcher who goes out there every five days and grinds as much as John Lackey does. Despite the results, at times, he’s done just that again in 2017.
He battles, perhaps more than anyone. Lackey provides the kind of fiery veteran leadership every team needs. In short, the righty is the epitome of a guy you hate – until he pitches for your club.
And, despite the high ERA/FIP numbers, there is a lot to be encouraged about if you break things down. First, he’s eating innings – a lot of them. This marks the second time in his big-league career he’s made at least five-straight starts of six innings pitched and that ability to eat innings will pay dividends for the team down the stretch.
His 9.0 K/9 certainly isn’t anything to shake your head at – thanks to the fact he’s struck out one-quarter of opposing batters. Lackey is the first one to admit it’s been a mixed bag so far this season, but he’s not the type of guy you count out early in a season.
Now is not the time to start calling for the hook. Mike Montgomery isn’t going to take away John Lackey’s job any time soon. Chicago features a strong starting rotation – perhaps one of the best in the National League.
The first-inning runs continue to plague the Cubs’ staff. Controlling opposing offenses early changes the entire dynamic of a game. So far, Chicago has been largely unable to do so. This is when guys like Lackey prove their mettle and lead the charge.