Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 5/24/13
Mlb-red-sox-blue-jays
Admit it. You were skeptical John Lackey would ever be a viable big league pitcher again. When he injured his biceps earlier this month, you thought he was done. To be fair, there were lots of reasons for Red Sox Nation to be skeptical of Lackey entering 2013. Even before missing all of the 2012 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Lackey had been a shell of his former self with Boston, posting a 5.25 ERA in 375 innings over his first two seasons with the Sox. Despite reports late last season that Lackey was throwing ahead of schedule, with plenty of time to build up arm strength before the following spring, it was reasonable to wonder if, at that age, he had anything left. Well, it seems that the stories of the 34-year-old’s demise were greatly exaggerated. But here’s the thing, not only is Lackey having an effective, efficient season thus far — with a 3.31 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in six starts — but there’s good reason to believe the right-hander may be as good right now as he has at any point in his successful career. Lackey’s best season in baseball was easily 2007, when he was valued at six wins above replacement level. In that season, he finally put together a fully healthy campaign for the Angels, going 19-9 with a 3.01 ERA and coming in third place in Cy Young voting. Lackey hasn’t performed at quite that level this year, but some of his peripherals are actually better now than they were then. The two stats that stand out in Lackey’s 2013 season are his strikeout rate and first-pitch strike percentage. Currently Lackey has a 23 percent strikeout rate, which is better than his career-best rate of 22.3 percent, as well as his 19.3 percent rate during his 2007 season. (His last three seasons in Los Angeles were at 19.3 percent, 19.3 percent and 18.6 percent before that number fell when he came to Boston.) Moreover, Lackey has gotten ahead of hitters with regularity this season, as he’s thrown 67 percent of first-pitch strikes, which is good for third-best in the American League. While Lackey has always had relatively low walk rates, that figure would also rank as the best of his career. And, despite these improved peripherals, everything else about Lackey’s stuff and execution seem about the same as they’ve always been. During the 2007 season, Lackey’s four-seam fastball averaged 91.3 miles per hour. Likewise, he’s still averaging 90.9 mph so far in the 2013 campaign, so there’s been no significant dropoff in velocity, or at least not enough of one to precipitate much of a decline. In fact, Lackey now has a two-seam fastball that’s averaged 92.2 mph this year, which would be the hardest pitch of any in his career (going back to 2007). Aside from that, Lackey’s pitch selection hasn’t changed much over the years. He still throws his fastball between 55 and 60 percent of the time, and, like many other veteran hitters, his slider seems to have developed into more of a cutter, according to PITCHf/x. There are even more reasons that Lackey’s very good start seems sustainable for the rest of the season, barring injury, of course. The .662 OPS he’s allowed batters would be the lowest of his career, and though his line drive rate against has ticked up just slightly, his ground ball-fly ball ratio would also be the lowest of his career by a wide margin. Lastly, Lackey’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against this season is .302, a strong indicator that his peripherals hold true, and he’s not getting the benefit of random luck. All in all, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have certainly gained far more attention for their respective returns to form in 2013. Granted, it’s just been six starts — it’d be remiss to point out that it will only be a couple more starts until a pitcher’s numbers generally stabilize — but Lackey’s turnaround has been no less impressive than Buchholz and Lester’s. Considering the injury he was rehabbing from, perhaps it’s even more impressive.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
Five most anticipated September MLB call-ups
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Troubling details emerge from Jeremy Jeffress' DWI arrest

Chargers would welcome Joey Bosa if he signed contract

Falcons rookie Keanu Neal needs surgery on knee

Jerry Jones unhappy with Ezekiel Elliott's dispensary visit

Texas Tech using fake Twitter accounts to track players

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Nike creates custom Air Jordan shoes in tribute to Craig Sager

Browns wanted ‘second-round pick and then some’ for Gordon

Report: Eric Berry to sign next week, be ready to play in Week 1

Lochte to be summoned to appear in Rio, charged with making false report

Carlos Ruiz traded to Dodgers

Ezekiel Elliott reportedly arrived at training camp overweight

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

What's missing for each Premier Leauge team?

Marshall’s first impression of Fitzpatrick: ‘He was terrible’

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Six worst quarterback situations in the NFL

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

A look at 2016 college football conference changes

The 20 best boxing movies ever

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

The 20 best boxing movies of all time

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

A look at 2016 college football conference changes

Can Perriman's return help Ravens find oft-elusive WR success?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker