John Lackey was a formidable veteran arm for Joe Maddon in 2016. Now as he struggles, he leaves the Chicago Cubs with little alternative.
This was the same offseason such big name talent was available in the form of David Price and Zack Greinke. At that time Chicago was coming off a sweeping loss in the NLCS, but an otherwise exhilarating season.
Another veteran starting pitcher was a must-have for Joe Maddon, and Lackey had the postseason resume, and veteran leadership, at a decent price needed for a young and hungry team.
Lackey’s regular season numbers for 2016 (11-8, 3.35 ERA) on the North Side exhibited as much as expected. His playoff numbers weren’t great, but with ace Jon Lester, the emergence of Kyle Hendricks, and 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, Lackey was able to be just that other fourth guy.
More from Chicago Cubs News
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
- Cubs: P.J. Higgins deserves to be in the lineup on a daily basis
- Cubs might start to limit Justin Steele’s workload soon
Now in 2017, John Lackey appears as if every last ounce of baseball’s been squeezed out of an arm that debuted as a rookie 15 short years ago.
The bad and the ugly
In 13 starts for the Chicago Cubs, the results have been heinous — A 4-7 record with an astronomical 5.26 ERA.
To provide context for just how bad it’s been for Lackey with regard to Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio, FanGraphs has a chart estimate depicting a scale from great (5 percent) to awful (13 percent). Lackey’s HR/FB is 21.8 percent.
The 38-year-old is allowing 2.27 home runs per nine innings, by far the worst of his career.
In five May outings, Lackey allowed six home runs. The righty has allowed that much through three starts in June, and, coincidental or not, seems to be one-upping his HR total each start.
"“You definitely have better starts than others. Stuff wasn’t great today. Left some balls over the plate, and I paid for it.”"
Joe Maddon was even blunter: “He didn’t have it tonight. He just didn’t.” In fact, when Maddon suggested the possibility of Lackey trying new approaches, the veteran pitcher had the typical gruff response we’ve grown accustomed to.
"“Joe doesn’t have much to do with the pitching. I don’t know what he’s talking about there.”"
Just another Cubs lackey
We all know how bad it’s been in the first inning for Cubs’ starters. While Lackey’s 6.92 first-inning ERA wouldn’t even be the worst on the team, his five home runs allowed in the frame are, and he’s tied with Arrieta with six walks.
Fans, exasperated with Lackey’s struggles, want him off the team. But who are you going to replace him with? Even if Mike Montgomery were to assume a regular role in the rotation, it’s not clear-cut that Lackey loses his spot, or would suddenly take up Monty’s bullpen absence.
For those who say Lackey should to be sent to the minors or designated for assignment, remember he’s making $12.5 million. Who would you expect to come up from Iowa and provide a better alternative?
And yes, I know we all want to see Rizzo on the mound but I think he might be a better fit elsewhere.
It’s important to consider any playoff rotation begins with Lester, followed, presumably by a trade acquisition later this summer, Hendricks, and Arrieta. Order notwithstanding. Then Lackey goes on his merry way following the season.
But for right now, there’s no other option for the Chicago Cubs but to throw Lackey every fifth day. Considering everything, what else would you do?