Chicago Cubs: John Lackey in the midst of one of his worst seasons ever
Leaving a hole in the Chicago Cubs’ rotation, right-hander John Lackey has yet to find any type of consistency – or quality – in 2017.
At 38 years old, Chicago Cubs’ pitcher John Lackey has many major league innings under his belt. In fact, Lackey has tossed more than 2,700 innings in his career, while compiling 181 wins. While experience tends to help a pitcher navigate line-ups, it can also break down a pitcher, especially when they are 38 years old.
Just last year, however, Lackey pushed back the clock and posted solid numbers. In 29 starts, he recorded a 3.35 ERA with 180 strikeouts in 188 1/3 innings pitched. In addition to his respectable ERA, Lackey posted a WHIP of 1.06 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.40.
2017 has been a different story
While the solid play of the salty veteran no doubt helped the Cubs reach and win the World Series last season, his lackluster play in 2017 has hampered the Cubs’ efforts. In 17 starts, Lackey has posted a 5.20 ERA in 98 2/3 innings pitched. Along with his inflated ERA, Lackey has also allowed 24 home runs so far this season. To put that into perspective, Lackey issued 23 home runs all of last year.
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Diving deeper into Lackey’s numbers, one can see why the veteran is struggling this season. According to Fangraphs, Lackey is allowing 1.7% more fly balls compared to 2016. That means Lackey has already induced 113 fly balls this season, after allowing 178 all of last season.
There is little doubt the increased amount of fly balls given up is what’s plaguing Lackey. To make matters worse, Fangraphs also tells us that Lackey is allowing more hard contact than he was a one ago. A number that was already high in 2016 (34.4 percent), has only increased this season (37 percent). Because hitters are making hard contact off Lackey, the right-hander’s soft contact percentage is at its lowest point since 2009 (14.4 percent).
Velocity is down across the board
Throughout his career, Lackey has been a four pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball, slider, curve-ball and change-up. What is concerning this season is the fact Lackey’s velocity has been down on all four pitches. His fastball, for example, is averaging a full mile per hour slower this season compared to last, while his slider velocity is down more than 0.5 MPH. In addition to his fastball and slider, fangraphs tells us Lackey’s curve-ball velocity is down 0.5 MPH and his change-up speed is down 1.0 MPH from last season.
Lackey’s dip in velocity may be caused from a long postseason run last year, or perhaps because the right-hander is getting up there in years. What ever is causing the decrease, Lackey needs to figure it out before he pitches himself out of a job.
Lackey’s bad numbers are not doing him any good
Lackey is currently in the second year of a two-year, $32 million deal he signed in 2016. That deal brought him to the Cubs, and could perhaps become his last major league contract. At Lackey’s age, not many teams will want to sign him, especially after the disappointing year he has had.
Could another contract with the Cubs make sense?
Despite Lackey’s rough 2017 campaign, a contract offer from the Cubs at season’s end may not be totally out of the question. Even after the recent addition of Jose Quintana, the Cubs still have two open rotation spots moving forward. While one of those could become filled with either Mike Montgomery or Eddie Butler, a one-year deal for a seasoned veteran like Lackey would make sense.
Lackey looks to turn it around in the second half
Even though Lackey had a rough first half of 2017, the right-hander will look to turn his fortunes around on Tuesday. The Cubs have him slated to be activated off the 10-day DL (foot), and make a start against the Atlanta Braves.
Lackey has seen some success against the Braves during his career. In four starts, Lackey has posted a 2.61 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings pitched.
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Perhaps, Lackey can call-up some of that success, and start his second half on the right foot. His future with the Cubs and with major league baseball in general may hinge on his second half numbers. It will be interesting to see how the veteran responds after such a rough first half.