A Defense of John Lackey
Ok. I didn’t tell the truth. This is less of a defense of John Lackey and more of an indictment of the fans who blindly criticize the 34-year old right hander. Things have gotten a bit silly.
John Lackey is the best active starting pitcher on the Boston Red Sox.
And it’s not particularly close.
Despite his performance on the mound, it is not uncommon to hear fans railing against Lackey, still infuriated by what they saw on the diamond from him in 2010 and especially in 2011. This isn’t a rational sort of argument like “man, Jon Lester needs to stop nibbling and just attack the strike zone.” Nope. Not at all. It’s personal. There are more than a few Red Sox fans who legitimately want Lackey to fail.
These arguments are almost always presented in similar fashions. Basically, Lackey is a bum who is a terrible at baseball. Lackey shows up his teammates on the field. Lackey is a bad human being.
I can’t pretend like Lackey has pitched well for this team. He signed a five-year deal with the Red Sox after the 2009 season and has been both a disappointment and a disaster. The disappointment came in 2010 when he was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Glossing over his stats that season, it’s reasonable to say that Lackey was a bit unlucky, but he still tossed 215 innings. When it was all said and done, Lackey was essentially a league-average pitcher in 2010 (99 ERA+). The disaster came a year later when Lackey — who was pitching with a badly injured elbow — was downright awful. He posted a 6.41 ERA, walked 3.2 batters per nine innings, and was a grossly below league-average pitcher (67 ERA+). Tommy John surgery and a year away from competing has made a world of difference. In 2013, he’s started 14 games and sports a stingy 2.81 ERA–good for sixth in the American League. His fastball reaches 95 MPH and sits at 93. His walks per nine is at 1.9. Lackey is healthy and good at baseball.
Lackey can be demonstrative on the mound. He will occasionally throw up his hands after a ball is misplayed or a call goes against him. But guess what? His teammates love him. He’s known for taking young pitchers under his wing and is a positive influence in the clubhouse, no matter what detractors may think.
I’m not going to delve deep into why critics of Lackey consider him to be an intrinsically bad dude. It’s not my business. But I would challenge you to think about difficult times in your life. Now imagine those trying times being played out in the public eye. It can’t be fun.
If you’re someone who simply doesn’t like Lackey, I offer a second challenge: Judge him not by what has occurred during his first two years in Boston but rather what he is doing on the field right now.
I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised