If you examine John Lackey‘s numbers before and after he joined the Red Sox, there are no glaring differences between his walks, hits-per-inning ratios, strikeouts, home runs allowed.
The in-depth stats are similar as well.
His velocity seems okay. He says he’s healthy to pitch.
So what’s the problem?
His results were good with the Angels; with the Red Sox, he’s been at best inconsistent; at worst, he’s been horrific.
Since going inside the numbers isn’t saying much, let’s brainstorm other possibilities.
He’s tipping his pitches.
Could it be that the hitters are seeing something that has yet to be noticed by the Red Sox? That Lackey’s betraying his own deceptiveness with a twitch, a movement, a flinch—something?
I’m sure the Red Sox have thought of this, studied film and told their catchers to keep an eye on it, but it’s certainly possible. Pitchers like Greg Maddux, whose deliveries are identical on every pitch, don’t come around very often. Randy Johnson had a habit of tipping his pitches, but his stuff was so devastating that it didn’t matter.
John Lackey’s stuff isn’t good enough to get away with telling the hitters what’s coming.
The likelihood of this is minimal based on circumstances.
Carl Crawford came from the tech savvy Rays who definitely would’ve caught onto anything Lackey was doing; presumably he would tell his new teammate what the rumor mill was churning around the league so he’ll mask his intentions better.
He doesn’t like Boston.
Take a guy from Abilene, Texas who spent his formative years in baseball with a stable club in laid back Anaheim and pay him a lot of money to dive into the relatively small and super-intense city of Boston with a team that has championship expectations every single season and you run the risk of unhappiness and wilting under the pressure.
Is Boston getting to Lackey?
Does he wish he’d signed elsewhere? Gone to the Rangers? Stayed with the Angels?
Good pitchers can have their skills diminished if they’re not mentally attuned to what they’re doing. Lackey’s being booed; his teammates look like they’ve had enough of him despite statements of support; and the front office undoubtedly rues the day they signed him.
If he’s healthy, the Red Sox will do everything they can to get rid of him.
It’s a fine line to tread when you’re a big ticket free agent signing and have a reputation for being “gritty” and “gutty” and might be injured.
Is Lackey hurt? Is his elbow worse than he’s letting on?
He and the Red Sox insist he’s fine, but he’s been on the disabled list for an elbow issue and his stuff is missing something. Lackey’s game is based on location and determination. An ache or pain can rob a pitcher of that critical few inches that separated him from being an innings-eating back of the rotation starter and a pitcher you want in the first game of a playoff series.
He’s had arm trouble in his career and the contract and desire to do well could be forcing him to pitch when he shouldn’t be.
If he’s hurt, he shouldn’t be out there. Baseball teams have a floating set of principles when it comes to injuries. You shouldn’t play injured/the team needs you so you have to play.
Teammates, management, media and fans don’t want excuses if a player doesn’t do his job even if it’s viable and true.
There will be relentless eye-rolling and skepticism if Lackey has to go back on the disabled list, but don’t be surprised if he’s taking the reputation he carted with him from the Angels to the logical conclusion with the Red Sox and pitching through pain that should sideline him.
What to do?
They need him to pitch if he’s healthy; they need him to pitch well. He was awful yesterday as he’s been through chunks of his year-and-a-half with the Red Sox; they have to figure something out to try and get value from the contract he signed.
He’s been a disaster so far but that doesn’t mean he has to be such through the life of the contract.
There’s an explanation somewhere. Eventually they’ll come to the root of the problem. It doesn’t mean he’ll be a success, but at least they’ll know why.
It’s better than not knowing.