How good is John Lackey and how rich is he about to be?
John Lackey put on quite a show last night, tossing six scoreless innings before loading the bases in the seventh, repeatedly saying “this is mine!” when Mike Scioscia came out to pull him with two outs and the Angels up 4-0, storming into the clubhouse after leaving against his will, and then using the postgame interview to complain about the home-plate umpiring. He’s being criticized in some circles and praised in others, but with free agency looming and last night perhaps being his final game with the Angels the whole performance got me wondering about just how good Lackey has been over the years. We could talk about win-loss records and strikeout rates and ground-ball percentages and all sorts of other stuff, but here’s a quick glance at his overall performance:
YEAR GS IP xFIP RANK 2005 33 209 3.75 3rd 2006 33 218 4.33 13th 2007 33 224 4.09 15th 2008 24 163 3.99 12th 2009 27 176 4.11 10th
xFIP stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which basically takes everything a pitcher does, removes luck from the picture, and spits out an ERA-like number that’s generally better than actual ERA at predicting future performance. Lackey’s actual ERA during that five-year span is 3.49, but he’s benefited from good defenses, strong bullpens, and a pitcher-friendly ballpark, all of which xFIP removes from the equation. As you can see Lackey has posted fairly consistent xFIPs over the past five years, with marks ranging from 3.75 to 4.33. Listed next to his yearly xFIP is his rank among AL pitchers who qualified for the ERA title, and those are pretty consistent as well. He was an elite starter in 2005, but has otherwise been in the 10-15 range. Given that there are 14 teams in the league, that basically makes him a mid-level No. 1 starter. By comparison his opponent last night, A.J. Burnett, has xFIPs of 3.29, 3.85, 3.70, 3.65, and 4.50 during that same span. By that measure he’s been slightly better than Lackey, but Lackey has been slightly more durable and is nearly two years younger. The comparison is relevant not because they matched up last night, but because Burnett received a five-year, $82.5 million deal from the Yankees as a free agent last winter. In his excellent preview of this offseason’s free agents Matthew Pouliot rated Lackey as the best pitcher available and ranked him third overall behind outfielders Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. That perhaps says as much about the weak free agent class as it does Lackey, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t get at least $60 million over five years and wouldn’t be surprised one bit if he surpasses Burnett’s deal.