Wasn’t Lackey Supposed to Be An Ace Against the AL West?

It may be time for John Lackey to update his resume because recent evidence suggests “beating up on the AL West” is no longer one of his “strengths.” And if tormenting former division rivals is no longer a strength, it is a bit worrisome to imagine what will happen when Lackey’s “weaknesses” start showing up on the schedule.

If you were at work yesterday, you missed seeing Lackey’s former employer beat the crap out of him, making it twice this year that a team from the West has pounded Big John. And make no mistake about it, yesterday’s beating was severe as the Angels accumulated fourteen base runners before Lackey could register a thirteenth out. Fastballs. Curveballs. Ahead in the count. Behind. It didn’t make a difference. Whatever Lackey threw, the Angels hit and usually pretty hard.

Following yesterday’s beat down, Lackey’s 2011 ERA against the West stands at 6.51. Granted, that is over just 27.2 innings but for reference sake, you should know Lackey’s ERA against the West last season was just 2.98.

This drop off is important because the “bull” story on Lackey is he might struggle at times against the East but you can count on him against lesser teams. In a nutshell, that was Lackey’s story in 2010, a season that he did post a rather reputable WAR of 4.0 (per Fangraphs). But skeptics are now left to wonder what Lackey’s 2011season might look like if he doesn’t have the West around to kick around.

Now in fairness to Lackey, he has been gouged just twice by the West; once by the Angels and once by the Rangers. So we aren’t talking about a big sample. Moreover, Lackey has never thrown well at Texas so his beating in Dallas back in game two should not be used to draw sweeping generalizations about his past and future performance against the West.

But I think it is fair to look at Lackey’s body of work so far and be concerned. How can you not be as he has started six games and whiffed four times? And if the Angels and Yankees are now getting to him – two teams that he has pitched well against in the past – one has to wonder what Tampa and Toronto will do when they get a crack at their old friend.

My best guess is they will smack him around. And that is because Lackey isn’t fooling anyone right now. He has two pitches, both of which are ordinary. He can’t get anyone to swing and miss. His Ks are down to pedestrian levels. And interestingly, his foul balls are way down as batters are having less trouble squaring up the junk he tries to get through the strike zone.

It all adds up to big trouble for the Red Sox as Lackey figures to be in over his head once bigger offenses start showing up. I’m not ready to pronounce this guy dead but in order for this guy’s season to work out, he will have to succeed against teams that have rolled him in the past. Given what I have seen thus far, I don’t love his chances.

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