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Chicago Cubs: Bringing back John Lackey makes sense for both sides

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Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester and John Lackey celebrate on the field after defeating the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester and John Lackey celebrate on the field after defeating the Cleveland Indians in game seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
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John Lackey’s initial two-year contract for the Chicago Cubs is up after this season. However, he may prove to be too valuable to let go.

John Lackey’s tenure with the Chicago Cubs so far has been just as the team had hoped for when they signed him. The big righty has compiled a 15-11 record with a 3.56 ERA and a solid 24% strikeout rate with the team, which puts him among the very best back-end of the rotation starters in all of baseball.

At the end of the year the 38-year-old veteran’s contract runs up, and while Lackey hasn’t delved too much into retirement talk, he might decide to hang it up. However, if he chooses to stick around then bringing him back on a one-year deal would be wise, both for the team and for Lackey.

In regards to the Cubs, Lackey is still highly effective. Not only is he striking out batters at the highest rate of his career, but he’s generating more swings and misses than ever before:

As you can see, Lackey is inducing less contact and more swinging strikes than his career averages, a great sign that a pitcher is aging gracefully. He’s relying on his bread and butter pitch, the cut fastball, to accomplish this.

Using Fangraph data, we can see that Lackey’s cutter has been one of the most effective pitches in baseball during his time with the Cubs. Since joining the Cubs his wFC, which measures how many runs a pitcher saved using that pitch, is 25.0, which is easily 1st in the league.

Hitters are batting a paltry .142 against the pitch and almost 47 percent of his strikeouts the past two years have been with the cutter. If Lackey can keep using it effectively then there’s no reason why the Cubs shouldn’t at least consider bringing the veteran back.

As for Lackey, if he doesn’t want to retire why should he leave? The Cubs, even though they’re starting off 2017 rather slowly, are still on paper among the best teams in baseball. Another deep playoff run seems likely not only this year but for the next couple years as well.

Lackey, being the ultra-competitive player he is, would probably only play for teams poised to win now rather than rebuilding ones now that he’s in the twilight of his career. What better team to play for than the Cubs, who’ll probably give him a fair deal since they need starting pitching help beyond this year anyway?

Next: Happ making it hard to send him back down

Lackey may throw us a curveball and retire after this year. He’s had a borderline Hall of Fame career and with three World Series rings, he can retire with no regrets. However, he’s only 20  wins away from 200 for his career, so if he wants that milestone he’d have to pitch at least one more year. With the Cubs arguably more equipped to get Lackey that feat than any other squad, bringing him back makes sense for both him and the team.

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