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John Lackey’s tough season (and off-season)

Posted by Andy on May 12, 2011

John Lackey is off to a very rough start this year. He's already got 3 games where he's allowed at least 8 earned runs. You have to go back to 2006 to find a pitcher with at least 4 such games in an entire season, much less so early in a season:

To get a sense of just how bad it is, Lackey is just the 3rd pitcher since 1919 to have 3 games with 8+ earned runs in his team's first 37 games of the season:

For some reason, it hasn't been very widely reported that Lackey's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer during the off-season. Even if her prognosis is good, that's a tough situation to go through. Dealing with the medical issues alone takes up a lot of time and energy, and that's before considering the anxiety and anguish that can occur as well.

From a baseball standpoint, Lackey's poor performance may be because his thoughts are with his wife.  Life is way more important than baseball and I can't blame Lackey if his focus on the field isn't as good as in previous seasons. Hopefully she will get through it and get a clean bill of health, and, secondarily, Lackey can get back to pitching to his capability.

26 Responses to “John Lackey’s tough season (and off-season)”

  1. bluejaysstatsgeek Says:

    I am obviously not a Red Sox fan, but clearly, Lackey is not helping his team and his performance is showing up in some uncharacteristic reactions and comments. There must be some way to put him on an inactive list so he can spend time with his wife and help her through her recovery.

  2. Zachary Says:

    I certainly wish Lackey and his wife the best. Maybe he should take some time off... please?

  3. Neil L. Says:

    Statsgeek, I assume by uncharacteristic reactions you're referring to all the plate umpire staredowns Lackey had last night over ball/missed strike calls. I can't recall him ever "disputing" calls like that before. At least not that many.

    It seemed like Gary Darling stopped giving him borderline calls after a while.

    One hates to speak poorly of him under his difficult personal circumstances, but his pitching line from the Jays game is ugly, including the five walks in 6.2 innings. His ERA has ballooned to over 8.

  4. Andy Says:

    Lackey has also been criticized for some of his post-game comments this season. Some have felt that he has downplayed his own poor performance, or suggested that his performance was closer to acceptable than it really was.

  5. MikeD Says:

    Perhaps Lackey and the Red Sox need to look no further than one of the pitchers on their division rival, AJ Burnett and the Yankees, for some hope this will turn around.

    Supposedly many of AJ Burnett's problems in 2010 were related to a lack of focus caused by issues in his personal life. (Heck, the guy even showed up for one game last season with a black eye that was never explained.) 2011 seems to be a very different story for Burnett. Question is will Lackey have to wait for 2012.

  6. John Says:

    The amazing part of it is that his game last night -- which produced a game score of 16 -- is only his third-worst game of the season so far. His first start of the season scored him a 6, which is the second-worst game score in all of major league baseball this season, better only than Fausto Carmona's meltdown on the opening weekend. His last start before last night earned him a game score of 8, which is the third-worst game score so far this year.

    (I just saw your comment, Andy, after I wrote this part...) As a Red Sox fan, I'm a little more irritated at his behavior on the field, which has always been an issue but has gotten worse this year. He's one of those hyper-competitive-yet-not-quite-accountable kinda guys who likes to show up his teammates on the field. (He did it to Crawford last night, after an admittedly Manny-like moment defensively.) After the game, when Francona said he left Lackey in to face John McDonald because Lackey's had a history of success against him, Lackey spewed some snide venom in McDonald's direction, belittling McDonald's skills. As a Red Sox fan, and not even a Jays fan, I found it offensive, and more than a little childish, considering that McDonald, for this day at least, was a far superior performer to Lackey.

  7. John Says:

    As you might be able to tell, I delighted in quantifying Lackey's horrific performance this morning...

    Let's talk a little more about Lackey's game scores, compared to other great under-performances in the Red Sox rotation.

    - Lackey has three game scores of under 20, in seven starts. Beckett's horrific 2010 season also had three such game scores, in 21 starts.

    - Lackey also had two sub-20 game scores in 2010, for a total of five sub-20's in 40 career Red Sox starts. Daisuke Matsuzaka's tremendously disappointing career thus far has had five sub-20's... in 104 career starts.

  8. Andy Says:

    I don't know much about the severity of his wife's condition, but I'll say this much in Lackey's defense:

    I suffered a family tragedy a year and a half ago, and it remains unresolved at this time. I have mentioned bits and pieces about it on the blog here and there but have mostly tried to keep it in the background. It has been all-consuming for me and my family. It has taken up a massive amount of time and energy, and has affected my ability to sleep, eat, work, and even contribute to this blog. Readers have noticed that both the quality and quantity of my work has been sub par for a while now, and while that's ultimately my responsibility, I do know that there are external factors contributing significantly to it. It's incredible how difficult it is to operate at anything for even a few minutes without thinking of the other situation, and the longer it goes on, the more the stress just builds and builds. It's not something you get used to--in fact it gets harder as time goes on.

    In Lackey's specific situation, if I were to guess, he isn't going to be less distracted until there's some resolution with his wife's situation--hopefully that she receives treatment and gets better. Until then, it's always going to be on his mind--the stress, the love, the uncertainty, the things in life that got taken away unfairly, the people who might bear blame (for example if his wife's diagnosis came later than it should have.) Like I said--it's all-consuming.

  9. bluejaysstatsgeek Says:

    @3 Neil:

    I was referring to the otherwise noted comments about John McDonald, plus comments I've read elsewhere criticizing team mates. This is simply not the John Lackey most people are familiar with.

  10. BSK Says:

    A lot of breath and ink was wasted on the Pau Gasol/fiance dumping non-story. Many folks argued that Gasol was paid exorbitant sums to play a game and, as such, had an obligation to his fans and teammates to put forth his best effort, regardless of what was going on off the court. I couldn't disagree more. These guys are human. And they're playing a game. I won't fault a guy for allowing off-the-field issues to impact on-the-field results unless the impact seems grossly disporportionate. For many people, work is a distraction, especially if your work is as fun as I assume being a ballplayer generally is. If Lackey or Gasol was a brain surgeon and struggles on the job could lead to someone's death, by all means, he should step back if he is not able to perform at the top of his game. But he's a ballplayer. If taking the ball every 5th day or lining up at center court helps them get through a tough period, it is not my place to say they don't belong there; that is between them, their families, and the teams. We all have good days and bad days at work, which may be a function of what is happening in our day-to-day lives. Few of us have them broadcast in television and analyzed endlessly.

  11. BSK Says:


    Best to you and yours dealing with your situation.

  12. Andy Says:

    BSK, thanks. Actually, the bad blood you and I had a while back was a direct result of my situation. I was acting out due in large part to stress that I was experiencing--I have been told that trauma causes de-inhibition, meaning a lack of one's normal filtering process. It can lead you to say and do things you might not ordinarily do--such as lash out in anger, etc. I'm not saying it's not my fault--I am responsible for my behavior in any event--but our arguments caused me to take a look at myself and realize that I wasn't acting the way I wanted, and I got some help, which made a big difference.

    This may relate directly to Lackey's behavior of throwing teammates and opposition under the bus--he may be de-inhibited due to his own family trauma. (Actually I would bet my bottom dollar that this is the case, and I feel for him.)

  13. BobBobson Says:

    ^he must be doing this an awful lot lately. (click my name)

  14. Neil L. Says:

    Andy, thanks for being so transparent.

    Your ability to relate to John Lackey's circumstances place you in a unique position among posters here.

    It is easy to carve up a player based on his cold, hard statistics and forget his humanity. He has to deal with some of the same life issues that we do.

    I think that the huge dollars they earn tends to distance us from them, tends to make us expect ML ballplayers to be superhuman.

  15. psychump Says:

    photo of Jim Duggan reminds me of the front of Peter Gabriel's 1980 solo LP

  16. BSK Says:


    No reason to rehash the past. Whatever it was, we both had our role and, more importantly, we both moved on in a positive way. I've had great respect for your before knowing more about your mitigating circumstances and only more now that I know what you are dealing with as you put out some remarkable work. Kudos to you and best wishes, sir.

  17. bluejaysstatsgeek Says:

    Group hug!

    I sincerely hope that whatever it is, Andy, things improve. I wish the same for the Lackey's. And from what I'm seen and heard of him, I bet John McDonald would wish the same for the Lackey's as well. Johnny Mac is a class act.

  18. Yetijuice Says:

    John Lackey was spot on in the one game I saw him pitch this year (4/24/11 Boston Red Sox @ Los Angeles Angels):

    Pitcher Decision Record IP H R ER BB K HR ERA BF Pitches
    John Lackey, W (2-2) 8 6 0 0 1 6 0 6.35 32 108

    I was disappointed Terry Francona did not let Lackey pitch the 9th inning so he could get a complete game shutout. Lifetime Lackey is 39-21 with three shutouts in games I have attended. Lackey is my all-time leader for career wins and losses. Nolan Ryan is my shutouts leader with seven.

    John Lackey is well remembered as the Angels winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. My e-mail headline after that win was "Lackey Turns Giants Into Peons!" I am an optimist that things will improve. It is not always possible to keep off field events out of your thoughts while in a game. There is a telemetry thought process that cannot be turned completely off.

    Andy, thank you for all of your posts. They are insightful and a pleasure to read. My cousin died in a helicopter crash one week before his 16th birthday 43 years ago. We were the same age and went to the same high school. I can rationalize other friends and relatives deaths over the years but I cannot forget that one. There are highs and lows in life. Time heals the pain somewhat. I wonder what would have happened in an alternative universe if Chris had not been on that helicopter. That remains an unanswered question.

  19. camisadelgolf Says:

    My favorite thing about Lackey is that the Red Sox still owe him $50MM+.

  20. Nash Bruce Says:

    before I read the comments(sorry all) but, amen, for, "life is way more important than baseball". As much as I love this game........

  21. Nash Bruce Says:

    after reading the comments, the best that I can do, is echo the second half, of BSK's comment (10) which starts with, "For many people, work is a distraction............."
    Very well said.

  22. BSK Says:

    I wonder if the lack of coverage of Lackey's family situatoin is deliberate. It would be completely understandable if he wanted to keep such information private, not only to avoid his wife and family having to deal with one of life's cruelest turns publicly, but also to avoid the type of speculation going on here and probably elsewhere. The speculation is natural and not in and of itself "wrong", but I could understand why some folks might prefer to avoid it. Even if his wife's situation was the sole reason Lackey hasn't thrown 5 perfect games this year, I would completely understand if he didn't want people conjecturing about it. Not only does it lead to hellacious press conferences, but it risks putting yet another pressure on his wife. I'm sure the last thing she or he need is thinking, "Not only does she have to deal with this, but she is KILLING the Red Sox playoffs hopes along with it."

    Again, I'm not faulting anyone here for anything they've written. I think Andy appropriately offered it as information and perspective. I just wonder if we might all do best by Lackey if we wish his family the best but try to focus baseball conversations around baseball. He might very well be told he sucks than get a bunch of sympathy that shifts the blame to his wife's health.

  23. BSK Says:

    Last sentence should read "He might very well prefer to be told he sucks than to get a bunch of sympathy that shifts the blame to his wife's health". And I'd add, "Even if it seems unfair to do the former when we know about his condition, I always defer to offering the person what it is that they want and need, rather than what I presume they want and need.

    These are just my thoughts. I have never been in this situation and, even if I had, I'm sure each person handles it differently.

  24. Andy Says:

    BSK, you're absolutely right. I have heard 2 different Boston media members say that they are sidestepping discussions about Lackey's wife because they "dont' want to go there", which I presume means add focus and criticism to Lackey's family situation, which can only make him feel worse.

    I can say that in my own situation, I've appreciated when someone has looked past me being late for a meeting or having to take a critical cell phone call (which I would ordinarily not do), but it can be dismaying when you realize you're screwing up in larger ways and someone tries to sweep it under the rug for you. It makes you feel like a charity case or like someone with deep emotional problems who needs to be handled with kid gloves.

    Getting back to you and me, BSK, you did me a huge favor in terms of how you handled my outbursts, including the private emails we shared. You basically said--I don't understand why you're behaving this way, and I don't know what you hope to get out of it--and when I stepped back and read your words just as they were, I realized that you were totally right, and that I was behaving bizarrely.

    Anyway, thanks for the support from various folks on this thread, and hopefully I've eased some criticism that Lackey may take too.

  25. BSK Says:


    Great points. Everyone handles such situations differently. Some prefer to suffer in silence. Some want to put it out there. Others are somewhere in the middle. As you noted, even without making a big deal about it or pubicly acknowledging it, there is a way to demonstrate an unspoken awareness and understanding that stops before turning someone into a charity case.

    For me and you, I'm glad my words proved helpful. I wish I could say they were as thoughtful as they were helpful, but sometimes things just break a given way. Glad you seem to be in a better place and continued luck.

    As for Lackey, if the worst that someone can say about him is that he's a subpar pitcher but a damn good husband and dad, I'm sure he'll take that. As the kids nowadays say (and I guess I'm one of them), haters gonna hate. People are going to knock Lackey, some of it fair, much of it likely not. Luckily, it's just a game. And for you, Andy, it's just a blog. A great blog. But a blog nonetheless.

  26. BSK Says:


    Can you shoot me an email? I think I got something via email from you, but I'm not sure. I just need to see what your email is but wouldn't ask you to put that or other person info out publicly.