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Something’s lacking: John Lackey's struggle with wins

Posted by David Sabino  September 3, 2013 12:11 PM

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lackeyws.jpgLook at most of his numbers and it’s safe to say that John Lackey is the ace of the Red Sox starting staff. Of the four Red Sox starters with at least 100 innings pitched this season, Lackey leads in quality starts (18) WAR (3.2), ERA (3.32) and WHIP (1.17). Yet somehow he’s last in the rotation in wins (8). Few in the majors have pitched to tougher luck this season when it comes to getting credit for pitching well.

Of the 57 major leaguers who have at least made at least 15 quality starts (6 IP or more, 3 ER or less), Lackey is tied for 55th in winning percentage (8-6, .571) in those games. Four of those games have resulted in shutouts by the opposition, starts in which Lackey’s ERA is 2.76, having given up just nine earned runs in 29⅓ innings. Raise the bar a bit to extra-quality starts (7 IP or more, 2 ER or less) and his winning percentage actually gets worse, .556, having been credited with five such wins in nine games (although his plight pales in comparison to Ryan Dempster’s tough luck in those games, going 0-3 in five extra-quality starts).

Dempster however is second in the major leagues in average run support, receiving an average 6.29 runs per start. Ony Detroit’s Max Scherzer and his 19-1 record gets more at 7.17. The rest of the Red Sox staff isn’t too shabby either with Felix Doubront placing 11th at 5.69 runs per game and Jon Lester currently coming in 14th at 5.55. But Lackey is 69th of a pool of 83 qualifying starters at just 3.77 runs of support per game.

I decided to take a look at how Boston’s opponents are pitching in Lackey’s starts. And the answer is somewhat surprising. Here’s the breakdown.

•In terms of ERA, opposition pitchers (starters and relievers) have a collective 3.09 ERA when Lackey starts for the Red Sox. That would rank 11th in the AL if Lackey opponents were a single person, placing better than Lackey’s own 3.22, which in itself ranks 12th in the AL. Basically Lackey is matched up with a Cliff Lee-caliber ERA opponent every time he toes the rubber.

•However while opponents haven’t given up a lot of runs, they have yielded a slew of baserunners. Lackey’s personal WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) is 1.17 which puts him 11th in the AL. Opponents however are off the charts bad, at an average of 1.83 earned baserunners per inning which is where the fault lies with the Red Sox offense. The opportunities to score for Lackey are there, they’re just not taking advantage of them.

•Perhaps it has something to do with a high strikeout rate. Lackey’s opposition strikes out 8.76 batters per nine innings as compared to his own rate of 7.71. However they are overshadowed by his superior control, with a 4.09 K:BB ratio compared to 2.65 for all opponents.

•And perhaps karma is playing the biggest role here. Baseball is the ultimate game of averages, and Lackey is just paying the piper for his 2011 when while pitching mostly in pain his ERA was 6.41 but his record was abnormally good at 12-12. In fact, his dozen victories were the most for someone with an ERA of over 6.40 since Harry Staley won 12 with a 6.81 ERA for the 1894 Boston Beaneaters of the NL. Lackey’s run support in ‘11 was 6.75, third-best in the majors behind Texas’ Derek Holland (7.64) and his teammate Jon Lester (6.86).

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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