Last year, I thoroughly enjoyed laughing at the expense of starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, who was all over the map in his first season with the New York Yankees after the team signed the then-31-year-old to a five-year, $82 million contract.

He had his fair share of solid outings, as his 4.03 ERA suggested, but he would also toss in a terrible start here and there; he allowed five runs or more eight times in 2009.

He has been worse this year, carrying a 10-13 record and a 5.13 ERA into tonight’s start against the Baltimore Orioles, but though I have continued to enjoy his mediocrity and the laughable amount of years and money doled out for such ineptness, I cannot do so as carefree as before.

Why? Because the Boston Red Sox now have their own version.

John Lackey fits the bill: an expensive, old, mediocre pitcher whose signing has turned out to be more regretful than I presume Burnett’s is for New York.

Burnett can be dazzling when everything’s working. When he didn’t allow five-plus runs last year, he was more often than not allowing two or one.

This year, when he hasn’t been booed (or in visiting ballparks, cheered) off the mound in the third or fourth inning, he has been tremendously effective, pitching deep into games.

Lackey has had some solid performances for Boston, but not lately, and he’s been far worse overall than Burnett, though Burnett’s ERA is higher.

The difference between the two: Burnett gives up runs in bunches once or twice a month while Lackey—especially over the past few months—gives up bunches of runs every outing. Tonight’s start against the Toronto Blue Jays was his season in a nutshell.

He entered with a 12-10 record and a 4.45 ERA, but left Fenway Park with 11 losses and an ERA 18 points higher.

Boston scored two runs in the first inning to give him some support, but it didn’t take long for the Blue Jays to grab an advantage and build upon it.

It’s the norm when Lackey takes the mound. Just as Clay Buchholz‘ brilliance is expected, so is Lackey’s ineffectiveness.

Lackey allowed two runs in the top of the second, then imploded in the fifth, allowing five runs in the frame. In that inning, he recorded just one out before departing to a park full of boos.

His stat line? 4 1/3 innings, eight hits, seven runs (six earned). Ho hum; just another day at the office for the Red Sox poor man’s Burnett.

Lackey was a pretty good pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but didn’t pitch more than 176 innings in 2008 or 2009.

He won 12 and 11 games respectively, carried ERA’s of 3.75 and 3.83, and missed approximately 15 starts over those final two seasons with the team. There was a sense he would only decline further, but Boston didn’t see it.

After all, they gave him Burnett’s exact contract, and all he’s been is Burnett on his worst of days every time out.

Counting tonight’s debacle in an eventual 12-9 loss, he has allowed 211 hits and 101 runs in 190 innings. The hit total is 34 more than was accumulated in 2009 in just two more starts.

The run total is his highest since 2004, and his walk total of 66 is the most he has issued since 2006.

At home, opponents are hitting .286 against him. On the road, they are hitting .279.

And with runners on base, opposing hitters are batting .292. The ugly statistics are never-ending, and to think he’s making $18.7 million this season.

He could turn it around next season. He could turn out to be the No. 2 starter they were looking to get when he signed.

But, with that said, he’s not getting any younger, and considering his consistently bad play, it’s hard to see him getting any better.

There’s always an adjustment period joining a team like Boston, considering their high expectations, but Lackey should be past that by now.

It’s not like he’s moving from the National League to the American League. He’s seen his opponents many times before. And they’ve come to know him better than he would like.

Boston’s offense has been depleted by injuries, so the run support hasn’t consistently been there, but a ERA nearing five speaks for itself. He hasn’t been getting it done; simple as that.

Boston wanted to match the Yankees signings of Burnett and CC Sabathia, but the market for pitchers was thin. It was overpaying Lackey or taking a risk with injury-prone Ben Sheets, who has been on Oakland’s shelf the majority of the season.

They did what they thought was right, hoping he could be a dependable starter who would really show up come playoff time.

Playoff time won’t come in large part because of injuries, but also because of Lackey’s inability to deliver. If he had even posted a ERA at or below four like he did with the Angels, the Red Sox would be right in the thick of the playoff race.

So, even at this early stage of his deal with the team, it’s hard for me not to characterize him as nothing more than a bad contract.

That’s a terrible burden for Boston to carry, a team with a pitching staff that is otherwise good.

Read more MLB news on