Chicago Cubs: Why John Lackey shouldn’t be on the playoff roster
The Chicago Cubs’ John Lackey has had some ups and downs this season but has overall pitched well in the second half. But has it been good enough to earn a roster spot for the playoffs, or will he be this year’s Jason Hammel?
Has John Lackey performed well enough to make a Chicago Cubs‘ postseason rotation? Does his skill set work in the bullpen? There have been times this season when many wouldn’t have been surprised to see him forced into an early retirement. When Lackey has struggled this year he hasn’t just looked off; he’s looked old. But when he’s looked on, he’s looked good.
Lackey’s season ERA is 4.67. For a fifth starter that’s not too bad. For a starter competing with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana for a postseason rotation spot, it might not make the cut.
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The numbers make a case against Lackey’s viability in the bullpen too.
In the rotation
Starting pitching collectively struggled in much of the first half. Fittingly, even the starter acquired midseason had a rough first half elsewhere. But some of the Cubs’ starters have bounced back impressively. Arrieta’s first-half ERA was 4.35. His second-half ERA is 1.97.
Hendricks turned a first half 4.09 ERA into a second half 2.42. Lester disrupts that narrative as his first half 4.25 ERA jumped up to a second-half ERA of 5.11. But Lester won’t be missing a playoff rotation for the Cubs. He’s the Cubs’ big-contracted ace, even if he’s having an off year.
Lackey’s best outside chance in cracking the rotation is via Quintana’s role. Quintana was a trade deadline acquisition. The Cubs gave up prospects including Eloy Jimenez to get Quintana from the White Sox. Since joining the Cubs Quintana has an ERA of 3.95. Lackey’s maintained a 3.88 ERA in the same time frame.
Lackey in all likelihood doesn’t beat out Quintana for a spot. Despite Lackey’s slightly higher second-half ERA, Quintana comes out on top for a few reasons: Quintana is younger, better and lefty. Joe Maddon doesn’t only like splicing up his lineups by alternating lefties and righties. When he can he likes for his rotation to reflect the same pattern lest opponents get too comfortable with a similar look on consecutive nights.
In the bullpen
Lackey could be moved to the bullpen. He has expressed an unwillingness to pitch from the pen, but also mentioned exceptions in postseason games. Even if Lackey were willing to go to the bullpen, it may not be the best idea. If Lackey isn’t on it’s usually apparent from the first inning he pitches.
Lackey’s worst innings this season have been the first innings of his starts. He has a first-inning ERA of 5.90 and 4.97 in the second. In the third and fourth innings, Lackey sports a 3.72 and 3.10 ERA respectively. So if Maddon were to throw Lackey into the game from the pen, there’s a fair chance he’ll be getting the 5.90 guy for his first inning pitched.
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Still, Maddon’s inner-circle of trust in the pen is small. It’s not impossible that Maddon would make room for Lackey out there.
Lackey has had a season of ups and downs. His second half improvements likely won’t be enough to land him a spot on the playoff roster. Therefore, he may spend the end of what’s likely to be his last season watching the postseason from the dugout.