Tag: John Lackey

John Lackey Could Be the Ex-Cardinal St. Louis Misses Most in 2016

Two former St. Louis Cardinals returned to Busch Stadium in Chicago Cubs uniforms Monday. One of them made an indelible impression in the Cubbies‘ 5-0 win.

Jason Heyward won the crowd reaction competition, hands down. The Cardinals faithful greeted the outfielder—who ditched the Cards this winter for an eight-year, $184 million deal with Chicagowith a chorus of boos and some genuine vitriol, as Dan Katz of Barstool Sports (Chicago) captured:

“If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave,” Heyward said before the game, per ESPN’s Mark Saxon. “I’m kind of glad that people weren’t happy to see me leave.” 

In the end, though, it was veteran right-hander John Lackey who did the damage against his former employer. And, valuable as Heyward is, Lackey could be the player St. Louis misses the most.

Lackey downplayed the negative reaction to Heyward, per Benjamin Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Maybe he wished his boos were louder. Either way, he spoke loudly on the mound.

Yes, it’s just one game, but the stat disparity is striking.

Heyward went 0-for-4, lowering his average on the young season to .188.

Lackey, meanwhile, tossed seven shutout innings, scattering four hits and striking out 11. And he even outdid Heyward with the bat, as USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale noted:

Lackey, who turned 37 in October, enjoyed a renaissance season with St. Louis in 2015, posting a career-low 2.77 ERA in 218 innings.

The Cubs and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein—who was general manager of the Boston Red Sox during Lackey’s time in Beantown—then inked the playoff-tested hurler to a two-year, $32 million pact.

Lackey wobbled a bit in his first two starts with the Cubs, yielding eight earned runs and 14 hits in 12.2 innings. On Monday, though, he turned in a vintage performance, befuddling a Cardinals lineup that paced baseball with an .872 OPS.

Which brings us back to the question of whether St. Louis might ultimately miss Lackey more than Heyward.

Yes, Heyward is a three-time Gold Glove winner and all-around offensive stud who has racked up the fourth-most wins above replacement (11.3) among MLB outfielders over the last two seasons, per FanGraphs.

But the Cardinals offense, as mentioned, has been humming along in the early going, Monday’s shutout notwithstanding.

Catcher and franchise backbone Yadier Molina looks rejuvenated after a pair of offseason thumb surgeries. And while Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, Heyward‘s heirs apparent in the outfield, have gotten off to uneven starts, rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker has been an early revelation.

That’s not to say St. Louis wouldn’t gladly slot Heyward back into its outfield mix. Nor is it to suggest the Cardinals will remain an offensive juggernaut through the dog days of summer.

But right now, they sure could use Lackey.

Ace Adam Wainwright has been downright dreadful through three starts, coughing up 15 earned runs and 22 hits in 16.1 innings. Mike Leake, the rotation’s biggest offseason addition, owns a 5.71 ERA.

Lance Lynn, meanwhile, is lost for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

There’s talent to be found, with Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha rounding out the starting five. 

But in a division as competitive as the National League Central—with the Cubs loaded for bear and the Pittsburgh Pirates lurking—depth and experience matter.

Lackey boasts a 3.11 career ERA in 127.1 postseason innings. He’s pitched for a pair of World Series winners, the 2002 Los Angeles Angels and 2013 Red Sox.

And, as he displayed Monday, he’s still got it. The slider slides. The fastball is fast enough.

At least one jilted Cardinals fan burned Heyward‘s jersey when he pulled a Benedict Arnold and bolted for the North Side. Perhaps they should have been torching Lackey’s laundry instead.

In the end, Heyward will almost assuredly be the more impactful player in the WAR department. Assuming he stays healthy, a guy with exemplary defense, plus speed and double-digit home run pop is going to net more wins than all but the most ace-like hurlers. 

Lackey, though, might have filled a greater void for the Cards at a fraction of the price.

It’s too late for what-ifs now. Both men are Cubs, end of story. On Monday, one of them made that fact sting especially hard for St. Louis.


All statistics current as of April 18 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Ben Zobrist, John Lackey Deals Strong Veteran Upgrades for Title-Chasing Cubs

The young, upstart Chicago Cubs have gotten a little longer in the tooth this offseasonand that’s a good thing.

First, they signed 37-year-old right-hander John Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal that was finalized on Tuesday, per Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. Then, later that same day, they inked 34-year-old super-utility man Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million pact, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

To help make room for Zobrist, the Cubs concurrently traded 25-year-old middle infielder Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for right-hander Adam Warren and a player to be named later, per ESPN the Magazine‘s Buster Olney.

That move clears some salary off the Cubs’ ledgerSpotrac indicates that Castro is owed around $40 million through 2019and gives the Cubs pitching depth and flexibility, as the 28-year-old Warren can start or come out of the bullpen.

Mostly, though, the Zobrist and Lackey signings were about the Cubs adding veteran pieces to a team that was high on talent but relatively low on experience.

Yes, left-hander Jon Lestera teammate of Lackey’s with the Boston Red Soxand catcher Miguel Montero are battle-tested. But the Cubs’ core is green.

Four rookies—Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler—featured prominently in last season’s playoff run. By contrast, Anthony Rizzo—a 26-year-old who’d never tasted the postseason—looked like a grizzled elder statesman.

Age isn’t everything, of course. In fact, in Zobrist’s case, you could argue it’s something of a red flag considering he’s locked up through his age-38 season.

But for next year at least, the versatile infielder/outfielder gives skipper Joe Maddon exactly the kind of weapon he covets. There is perhaps no manager in the game who likes to mix and match more than Maddon, and Zobrist arms him with a top-notch Swiss Army knife.

Maddon and Zobrist have familiarity, too, from their days with the Tampa Bay Rays. In his best seasons under Maddon2011 and 2012Zobrist racked up 14.4 WAR (wins above replacement) and capably manned four different positions.

He won’t replicate that production in Chicago, but he’s still plenty valuable, as he demonstrated by hitting .276 with an .809 OPS last year for the Oakland A’s and world champion Kansas City Royals.

Lackey, meanwhile, is coming off a renaissance campaign with the St. Louis Cardinals. After posting a 4.30 ERA in 60.2 innings for the Cardinals in 2014, Lackey sipped from the fountain of youth and put up a career-low 2.77 ERA in 218 innings in 2015.

He’ll slot nicely into a rotation fronted by Lester and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. Lackey owns a 3.11 lifetime postseason ERA in 127.1 frames, which is good news as the Cubs look to make another deep October run.

“You walk into a three-game series and the other team calls for your pitching, and you say it’s going to be ‘Lester, Arrieta and Lackey,’ they don’t like that,” Maddon said with typical bravado, per ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers.

He’s right. That’s a sturdy top three.

And just as Lackey strengthens the staff, Zobrist bolsters the lineup. He doesn’t blow you away with power, but he’s a switch-hitter without dramatic splits who is essentially versatility personified. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan highlighted Zobrist’s virtues:

You could argue that Castro, who is nearly 10 years Zobrist’s junior, has more long-term upside. And, again, it’s fair to wonder what Zobrist will be able to door not doin the third and especially fourth years of this deal.

But the Cubs are in win-now mode after blossoming ahead of schedule yet falling to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series.

Zobrist and Lackey, while not as splashy as David Price or Jason Heyward, are exactly the kind of complementary pieces Chicago needed on its long-delayed title quest. Don’t worry, we’re not going to mention billy goats. Promise.

The deals are sweetened from the Cubs’ perspective when you consider that Chicago snatched Lackey from the archrival Cards and Zobrist from the Mets, who were “pretty optimistic” they’d land him, per ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin.

The Cubs have shown interest in Heyward, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. And the Zobrist and Lackey deals are reasonable enough to make adding the 26-year-old outfielder a possibility. Heyward, another former Cardinal with legit five-tool talent, would certainly and instantly make the Cubs much, much better.

So far, though, president of baseball operations Theo Epsteinthe architect of this rebirth on the North Sidehas opted for restraint and chosen to tinker around the edges of an already-excellent roster.

The Cubs had youth. Now they’ve added experience. Is it a trophy-hoisting recipe? It’s still December, so the proper answer is “Wait and see.” But from where we’re sitting, signs point to “Yes.”


All statistics and contract information current as of Dec. 8 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

John Lackey to Cubs: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

John Lackey showed he still has plenty left in the tank in his 13th full MLB season. The St. Louis Cardinals have moved on from him, though, so the veteran starting pitcher reportedly has opted to sign with their biggest rival, the Chicago Cubs.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported Lackey’s deal with the Cubs will pay him between $32 million and $34 million over two years. MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat confirmed the agreement. 

Lackey had a 13-10 record in 2015 but boasted a strong 2.77 ERA with a WHIP of 1.21 that matched his second-best personal mark, per ESPN.com. Thanks to an effective sinker and slider, the 37-year-old has managed to remain a fixture in an MLB rotation even after Tommy John surgery kept him out for all of 2012.

Cardinals communications coordinator Chris Tunno highlighted a notable stat from Lackey’s 2015 campaign:

With a lot of innings on his right arm, Lackey will need to rely on movement, location and contact over pitching power to prolong his effectiveness as a starter. The Cubs present him with an opportunity to win and be part of a talented rotation that includes former Boston teammate Jon Lester and 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. 

The Cubs don’t need Lackey to lead their rotation like he did at the end of last year in St. Louis, when everyone was hurt or underperforming. 

Signing Lackey accomplishes two things: It weakens the Cardinals, which Chicago fans will appreciate, and it also strengthens an area of need for the Cubs. He may not be David Price, whom they were interested in, but with Lester and Arrieta in the top two spots, the Cubs didn’t need to add another ace to be a World Series contender. 

Lackey is a consistent, reliable performer who is not going to cost much on a short-term deal. He slots in nicely as their No. 3 starter and represents a huge upgrade over the likes of Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Cubs Should Chase Jeff Samardzija-John Lackey Duo over Greinke

The Chicago Cubs missed out on Jordan Zimmermann. Then they whiffed on David Price. Now they need to go hard after Zack Greinke, right?

They just returned to relevance with a trip to the National League Championship Series, after all, and could use another starter (at least) to push them over the long-awaited championship hump. Heck, they proved their willingness to spend big on pitching last winter by handing a six-year, $155 million deal to Jon Lester.

“We’d love to have him,” Cubs ace Jake Arrieta said of Greinke—the man he bested for NL Cy Young honors, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times

Titillating as a Greinke signing is, however, the Cubs appear to be out of the running along with 28 other clubs, according to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale:

The Cubs could still gallop in as a dark horse. But they might be better off spreading their resources around and grabbing a couple of arms from the second tier of this deep free-agent pitching pool.

There are multiple options, but here’s an intriguing duo: Jeff Samardzija and John Lackey.

Let’s start with Samardzija, who wore a Cubs uniform not so long ago. That’d be 2014, precisely, when the right-hander put up easily his best season.

In 219.2 innings that year between the Cubs and Oakland A’s, Samardzija posed a 2.99 ERA and 1.065 WHIP with 202 strikeouts.

Then the A’s, who’d acquired him at the trade deadline for their ultimately doomed postseason push, shipped him back to the Windy City—this time to the White Sox.

Pitching for a payday, Samardzija mostly bombed on the South side, as he led all of baseball in hits (228) and earned runs (118) allowed.

It’s tempting to look at that and conclude 2014 was an anomalous blip. But there are mitigating factors. The White Sox’s home yard, U.S. Cellular Field, is hitter-friendly. But so is Wrigley Field, so that’s mostly mitigated.

What can’t be ignored is the utter clunkiness of the Sox’s gloves. They were the worst defensive team is baseball last year, according to FanGraphs, while the Cubs were the second-best.

That doesn’t mean Samardzija would return to the Cubbies and be automatically cured. But a resurgence is possible, especially considering Samardzija’s velocity remained consistent, per FanGraphs, and he’s put less stress on his arm, as ESPN’s Buster Olney noted:

Samardzija, recall, didn’t become a regular starter until 2012. Injuries are tricky, fickle things, but he’s more likely than some to have ample gas left in the tank entering his age-31 season.

The gauge may be running a bit lower on Lackey, who’s 37 years old and has logged more than 2,400 big league innings. 

Lackey, however, cranked back the clock last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a career-best 2.77 ERA in 218 innings and finishing in the top 10 in Cy Young Award balloting. 

Snatching the veteran right-hander away from their hated division rivals should add motivation for the Cubs, but Lackey makes sense regardless. And Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggested a Chicago/Lackey marriage is “not out of the realm of possibility.”

“It was [Cubs president of baseball operations] Theo Epstein who signed him as a free agent in Boston,” Cafardo noted. “Lackey is also a close friend of Jon Lester, who will push Epstein in that direction.” 

Lackey played for the league minimum, plus incentives, last season, but will command much more in what might be his final major league contract.

Still, his and Samardzija’s price tag isn’t likely to approach the $31 million average annual value the Boston Red Sox gave Price, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Greinke, meanwhile, might match or even exceed that figure if the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are truly in a bidding war.

Imagine a rotation fronted by Arrieta and Lester and rounded out by Samardzija, Lackey and either Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks. That’s a deep, balanced, high-upside group. Add the Cubs’ burgeoning, playoff-tested lineup and you’ve got the makings of a billy-goat-curse-busting bunch.

Price or Zimmermann would have been a shiny prize. And Greinke to Chicago would grab headlines—no argument there. But, as Epstein acutely understands, building a winner is about being prudent as well as splashy.

A Lackey/Samardzija tandem would be a little bit of both.


All statistics and contract information current as of Dec. 2 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

John Lackey: Latest News, Rumors, Speculation Surrounding Free-Agent P

John Lackey filled in fluidly for the St. Louis Cardinals when ace Adam Wainwright suffered an Achilles injury in early April.

Lackey is now a free agent after declining a $15.8 qualifying offer, and already teams are in pursuit of the 13-year veteran.

Continue for updates.

Six teams have shown interest in Lackey

Thursday, Nov. 19

Lackey’s market currently includes the three teams he’s played for previously: the incumbent Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox—the team who traded him to St. Louis—and the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he spent the first eight years of his career.   

The Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs have also reached out to Lackey’s camp. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported all six clubs that had “checked in” on Lackey.

Lackey has primarily positioned himself by maximizing his value, and declining the handsome qualifying offer came as no surprise. He’s clearly interested in playing toward his 40th birthday and could receive a deal fitting those aspirations.

After being dealt from Boston to St. Louis at the 2014 trade deadline, Lackey appeared on a wayward decline from his early career heroics. He finished with a 4.15 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 12 starts with the Cardinals, including two in their run at the National League pennant.

But his turnaround in 2015 was remarkable. Lackey eclipsed 200 innings for the first time since 2010, going 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA, a 1.211 WHIP and 175 strikeouts, his most since his only All-Star season in 2007.

This all from a man who turned 37 in October.

All six of his suitors are in the market for starting pitching this offseason. The Red Sox have been aggressive in free agency under new president Dave Dombrowski, who seems prepared to quench the drama of Boston’s epic collapse in 2011, which Lackey was a part of.    

With a suitable overhaul this offseason, the Red Sox could contend for the American League East; the same goes for the Angels in the AL West. The Cardinals’ outstanding rotation could probably make do without Lackey given that he’ll seek years and dollars they may not be prepared to dish out.

The Cubs and Dodgers make most sense. Given his age, Lackey probably has a premium on chasing a ring in his career twilight, and both teams have realistic World Series aspirations in 2016. And though both are believed to be in the market for blue-chip free agents like David Price, Lackey boasts leadership and a postseason pedigree each could benefit from.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

2016 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Underrated Stars

The Major League Baseball offseason can be as dramatic as the postseason—at least in most years, though this October is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory—providing thrills and heartache for fans and teams in their quests to build championship rosters.

This winter, all eyes will be on marquee names like Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price and New York Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes, but only a select group of teams will be able to get in on the bidding for those players. The more interesting dynamic at play involves what will happen in the second- and third-tier markets.

Those players aren’t going to draw the same attention but will serve valuable functions for teams that have a strong nucleus in place and need to make a tweak here or there to get over the hump. 

For instance, no one would have expected Kendrys Morales to hit 20-plus home runs with over 100 RBI in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup when the team signed him last year, yet there he is, doing just that. 

Such under-the-radar deals can make all the difference when the postseason rolls around, so here are some of the latest rumblings about unheralded free agents and where they could end up before 2016’s spring training begins.


John Lackey to Switch Sides in Rivalry?

The St. Louis Cardinals’ season ended in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with John Lackey on the mound as the starting pitcher.

Perhaps the script for Lackey will reverse next season. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Cubs could pursue the veteran right-hander this winter.

“It is not out of the realm of possibility that Lackey could wind up with the Cubs next season as a free agent, according to one major league source,” Cafardo noted. “It was Theo Epstein who signed him as a free agent in Boston. Lackey is also a close friend of Jon Lester, who will push Epstein in that direction.”

Lackey played this season under one of the most team-friendly salaries in history. When he originally signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2010, there was a provision in the deal that meant his salary for the final season (2015) would be the major league minimum, worth roughly $500,000. 

The 36-year-old responded by having his best season since he was a Cy Young contender with the Los Angeles Angels, posting a career-low 2.77 ERA and throwing over 200 innings for the first time since 2010. His 3.6 wins above replacement were his most since 2007, according to FanGraphs

Adding a veteran starter of Lackey’s ability behind the dynamic one-two punch of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester would make the already formidable Cubs more lethal in 2016, though Lackey is not likely to replicate his numbers from this season, as his 3.57 fielding-independent ERA suggests some regression will come.

Yet even factoring in regression, Lackey is a more reliable option than Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel in the No. 3 spot.

Plus, the Cubs wouldn’t have to break the bank to sign Lackey, since he’s at a point where a three-year deal might be too much for some teams. That works to Chicago’s benefit, because by the time Lackey’s contract ends, young stars like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber will be on the verge of earning big raises through arbitration.

It will be shocking if Lackey doesn’t have a robust market this winter, but the Cubs do have a compelling presentation to make.

Prediction: Lackey signs with Cubs.


Freese High on Angels’ Wish List

David Freese will be one of the most interesting free-agent test cases of the upcoming offseason. The former All-Star has been an above-average hitter in two seasons with the Angels but also missed 69 games during that span.

Injuries have been a problem for Freese, who has played more than 140 games only once since 2010, though that isn’t deterring the Angels from keeping a close eye on the 32-year-old, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

“When Freese returned, their lineup deepened and their record improved,” Gonzalez noted. “It was no coincidence, which is why the Angels are expected to strongly consider bringing Freese back this offseasoneven though they have two promising young players waiting, and even though they’ll have other holes to fill in their lineup.”

Freese also told Gonzalez that his hope is to remain with the Angels, while admitting both sides will have to explore the situation in greater detail over the winter.

“I think they understand that [I want to return],” Freese said. “With that said, a lot of things have to happen on both sides. It’s a new experience for me. We’ll see what happens when the World Series is over and go from there.”

The Angels, like Freese, will be a fascinating study in the offseason. They have an owner in Arte Moreno who will spend money, at times foolishly, in hopes of winning a championship. New general manager Billy Eppler has to establish his own identity while working within the system, especially since Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia are close.

Being able to spend money in smart ways—Albert Pujols still has power, but a 35-year-old first baseman with a .307 on-base percentage who is still owed $165 million through 2021 doesn’t look good—will determine how successful the Angels are moving forward.

Freese was the third-best Angels hitter by OPS+ (109) last season. Like Pujols, he doesn’t get on base at a high rate, but he does provide enough pop (41 extra-base hits, .420 slugging percentage) to warrant a modest two-year deal.

Since the Angels don’t seem likely to undertake even a short-term rebuild, they have to stick with veteran performers on whom they can depend. Freese falls into that category, even if he’s not the impact hitter the Angels hoped they had acquired from St. Louis two years ago. 

Prediction: Freese re-signs with Angels.


Torii Hunter’s Extended Return

When the Minnesota Twins brought Torii Hunter back last winter, it seemed odd that a young, rebuilding franchise would want a 39-year-old outfielder on its roster. 

Then the Twins went out and won 83 games, with a lot of those young players and Hunter working in unison to make it happen.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, people in the Twins organization hope to bring Hunter back in 2016.

“Twins people loved the job Torii Hunter did in the clubhouse and are expected to try to bring him back for another year,” Heyman wrote. “Hunter’s influence seems undeniable.”

This is one of those cases in which words like “leadership” and “clubhouse guy” will come up. Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe talked about Hunter’s skills off the field in July with Dave Campbell of the Associated Press.

“The mentality that he brings in, that we’ve kind of embraced, of that short memory, forgetting about yesterday, forgetting about the game that happened an hour ago, that’s something that’s really helped us,” Plouffe said. “That’s kind of been the difference in the team from the years past.”

While those intangibles may hold some type of value, Hunter wasn’t good on the field last season:

Another issue is that the Twins aren’t lacking for outfielders. Eddie Rosario struggled this season with a .289 on-base percentage but is just 24 years old with the potential to get better. Aaron Hicks finally showed flashes of being a capable big leaguer. Max Kepler and Byron Buxton should get a lot of at-bats in 2016, and Miguel Sano, who played mostly as a designated hitter in 2015, is capable of playing right field. 

At Hunter’s age (now 40), his performance isn’t likely to get any better than it was this season, which is a problem, given how talented the young nucleus around him is and what it could be next season. 

The notion of clubhouse chemistry became a hot topic late in the season, with USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale speaking to various players and front-office personnel around baseball about its importance. 

“People that don’t understand what team chemistry means don’t work in baseball,’’ Price told Nightengale. “It makes me mad, because obviously they don’t know how important it is. Ask the Giants. Ask the Royals. Ask the Cardinals.”

No one denies that good relationships between players and coaches help over the course of a season that starts in February and ends in October, but the Giants, Royals and Cardinals are loaded with talent. 

Hunter, at this point in his career, serves no purpose for the Twins on the field. Yet it seems the front office believes in his behind-the-scenes skills so much that it would be a surprise if he doesn’t play one more season.

Prediction: Hunter re-signs with Twins.


Stats via Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

John Lackey Showcases Late-Career Renaissance with Dazzling NLDS Gem

In their first game of the 2015 postseason, the St. Louis Cardinals got a boost from two rookies and one guy who’s being paid like a rookie.

The big difference, of course, is that the guy they’re only paying like a rookie is 36 years old and is in the middle of what might be the finest season of a long, successful career.

That would be John Lackey. He took the ball in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on Friday and led the Cardinals to a 4-0 victory by pitching seven and one-third shutout innings. He took a no-hitter into the sixth and finished with just two hits and one walk allowed with five strikeouts. MLB highlighted the Cardinals’ shutout:

In the process, Lackey lowered his career postseason ERA to 2.90 in 124.1 innings. Somewhat quietly, he’s put himself up there among the great postseason pitchers in MLB history.

“You put a guy in a situation like this,” said Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny after the game, per MLB.com, “and we talk a lot about him being a big-game pitcher, about the experience he’s had, how he thrives in these situations, and then he just takes it there and goes a step further with just the way he competed today.”

As for Lackey’s offense, it was Matt Holliday’s first-inning RBI single off Jon Lester—who also pitched very wellthat put the Cardinals on the board and long home runs by rookies Tommy Pham and Stephen Piscotty in the eighth inning that put the game away.

For the Cardinals, this means they now need just two wins to move on to what would be their fifth straight National League Championship Series appearance. For Lackey, it was yet another exclamation point on a season that’s featured many more than anyone could have anticipated.

When the Cardinals acquired Lackey in a trade with the Boston Red Sox last year, they were acquiring a veteran pitcher they knew they controlled through at least the end of 2014.

However, there was some question about whether Lackey would stick around in 2015. The Cardinals technically held a mere $500,000 team option for the 2015 season—a gift from a clause in Lackey’s contract that kicked in when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012—the possibility existed that Lackey would simply take his $100-plus million in career earnings and hang up his spikes.

Fortunately, Lackey didn’t take long to ease any and all doubts, confirming in early August that he would indeed honor his league-minimum 2015 option if the Cardinals picked it up.

Though Lackey posted just a 4.30 ERA in 10 regular-season starts for them, the Cardinals did just that. And for that, they were rewarded with arguably the best season of Lackey’s career.

All Lackey did in his 33 starts was post a career-low 2.77 ERA across 218 innings, also marking his first 200-inning season since his first year in Boston in 2010. As for how he did it, it was a combination of Lackey being his usual self while also adopting some new tricks.

One thing Lackey has going for him is that he still has a good arm attached to his body. FanGraphs put his average fastball at 91.6 miles per hour in 2015, which is where he was even as a much younger man in his final year in Anaheim in 2009.

And as ESPN Stats & Info can vouch, against the Cubs, he showed that he’s still plenty capable of reaching back for more:

But while good velocity definitely helps, while playing the Cubs Lackey also demonstrated that he’s no longer using velocity as a crutch. 

As Brooks Baseball can show, Lackey essentially shelved his two-seam fastball upon his departure from Anaheim, instead choosing a life as a four-seamer/slider pitcher. But his two-seamer made a comeback in 2015, particularly in the second half when it accounted for nearly a quarter of his pitches.

What’s the value of a good two-seamer? Well, it never hurts to simply have another nasty pitch in your arsenal. As pictured by MLB GIFs, that’s another thing Lackey demonstrated Friday:

Apart from sheer nastiness, a good two-seamer is also an easy way to get ground balls. Those started coming for Lackey as he moved more toward his two-seamer in the second half of the year, as he upped his GB% from 44.6 to 47.9.

Against the Cubs, it was more of the same. Per ESPN.com, he induced 10 ground balls to seven fly balls. That’ll work.

Apart from maintaining good velocity and reaping the benefits of more liberal two-seamer usage, there was something else Lackey has done really well this season that he got a chance to demonstrate in Game 1.

If he seemed particularly nasty in the few instances in which the Cubs had runners on base, well, just know that was also a continuation of a trend. As Neil Weinberg noted at FanGraphs, Lackey was notably harder to hit with men on base—and even harder to hit with men in scoring position—than he was with the bases empty in 2015. His .227 average against with men on base put him in the same company as Gerrit Cole. His .200 average against with men in scoring position was the league’s 11th-best.

We’re not talking about a major overhaul here, but all of this definitely worked for Lackey throughout 2015. And it’s probably because good velocity, a good two-seamer and an ability to clamp down with runners on base will make a pitcher a tough matchup for pretty much anyone.

It would appear, however, that Lackey is an especially tough matchup for the Cubs.

Even before he got them again on Friday, Lackey had already dominated the Cubs to the tune of a 1.25 ERA in three starts throughout 2015. Three related stories would appear to be that the Cubs are among baseball’s least consistent teams at hitting good velocity, hitting two-seamer/sinkers and hitting with men on base. They’re not particularly good at the things that Lackey is good at.

On the bright side for the Cubs, it’s possible they won’t see Lackey again in this series. If they can win the next three games against Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn, they’ll move on to the National League Championship Series, and their struggles against Lackey will become nothing more than a bad memory.

If the Cubs only win two of the next three, however, Lackey will be waiting for them in Game 5. After already turning in a renaissance season for the books, that would be his chance to produce yet another work of art. 


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, BaseballSavant.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

Follow zachrymer on Twitter 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Atlanta Braves’ Starting Pitching Options After Tim Hudson’s Departure

Tim Hudson has signed with the San Francisco Giants, per John Shea and Henry Schulman of SFGate.com, and now the Atlanta Braves are in a position where they need to replace the veteran righty.

After having gone 113-72 in nine years with the Braves, Hudson is returning to the West Coast after he and the Giants agreed on a two-year, $23 million deal.

For Braves’ fans, it’s just another big name that has gone elsewhere, something that will happen again this offseason when Brian McCann signs with another team.

With Hudson gone, this is how the Braves rotation currently looks (2013 stats):

  1. LHP Mike Minor (13-9, 3.21 ERA)
  2. RHP Kris Medlen (15-12, 3.11 ERA)
  3. RHP Julio Teheran (14-8, 3.20 ERA)
  4. RHP Brandon Beachy (2-1, 4.50 ERA)
  5. LHP Alex Wood (3-3, 3.13 ERA)
  6. RHP David Hale (1-0, 0.82 ERA)

There’s a lot of confidence in the top three in the rotation, but after that, things aren’t as clear.

Here is a look at the options the Braves have with the departure of Hudson:


In-House Options

Wood seems like an easy pick to fill one of the rotation spots in 2014.

As a starter, he went 3-2 with a 3.54 ERA and 54 strikeouts. He seemed to have good control and was able to handle a good workload.

The one thing that people may point to is that he had a 2.08 ERA in 21.1 innings coming out of the bullpen. If Jonny Venters struggles coming back from Tommy John surgery, and other relievers struggle as well, Wood could be moved back to the bullpen to solidify that area.

Then there’s Beachy. After having had Tommy John surgery in 2012, Beachy made five starts last year before being shut down due to more elbow trouble. Then there is this tweet by MLB.com’s Mark Bowman:

Although Beachy is expected to be ready for spring training, there are some question marks there as well. And there will continue to be question marks until he can pitch a full season.

Hale is another option and someone who had a lot of success in the minor leagues. In 22 games in Triple-A (20 of which were starts), Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA and 77 strikeouts.

Top-pitching prospect J.R. Graham could be another option, but as Bowman notes in a mailbag post, he’s more likely to start 2014 in the minors:

Graham has made significant strides since his right shoulder sidelined him for the final 3 1/2 months of this past season. Still, while there is a chance he could end up in Atlanta’s bullpen or rotation at some point next year, it seems safer to assume Graham would begin the 2014 season back at the Minor League level.

Obviously, Wood and Beachy will be on the roster to start the season, as should Hale in the bullpen. But what if something goes wrong. Shouldn’t the Braves have some insurance?


John Lackey

It seems crazy to think this, but David O’Brien of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution believes the Braves should look at Boston starter John Lackey in a potential trade:

Lackey is owed $15.25 million in 2014, while he will be due the league minimum in 2015 because of a weird clause in his contract, according to Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs:

So, they (or maybe his agent) came up with a pretty creative solution, adding a league minimum club option to the end of the deal if Lackey missed significant time due to an elbow issue. Sure enough, Lackey’s elbow became problematic, and after the 2011 season, he underwent Tommy John surgery and spent the entire 2012 season on the DL, triggering the club option for 2015.

As a result, the Red Sox now own the rights to Lackey’s 2015 season at a salary of around $500,000. 

For the Braves, that would be an extremely good deal considering Tim Hudson’s $9 million and Brian McCann’s $12 million will be off the books. 

The Braves could reasonably pay Lackey the money he is owed this year and then have him for a league-minimum salary next year.

Lackey was 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA and 161 strikeouts this past season. He was a key cog in helping the Red Sox win the World Series.

If he continues to pitch the way he did this past season, two years and $15.75 million is a great deal.

The Red Sox have even gauged other teams’ interest in Lackey, according to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston:

Obviously, the trade chips would be another aspect of a potential deal. While not wanting to give up a lot, the Braves could conceivably give up Cody Martin and Matt Lipka (or Todd Cunningham) in exchange for Lackey and a lower-level prospect.

That would allow the Red Sox to clear out some room in their rotation and also give them pieces for the future.


Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay hasn’t been the same over the last two years, combining for a 5.15 ERA in 38 starts the last two seasons.

However, now a free agent, what if Halladay could be even a shade of his former self.

If that’s the case, O’Brien suggests the Braves should look at signing him:

The Braves would do something like sign Halladay only if they were reasonably certain, after looking at the medical reports, that such a pitcher might be ready to compete at a high level again.

The fact remains, before those past two painful seasons, Halladay was the game’s best starting pitcher, piling up 78 wins and 35 complete games during a remarkable four-year stretch (2008-2011) in which he posted four consecutive sub-2.80 ERAs and had seasons with 20, 17, 21 and 19 wins.

O’Brien makes a good point. Imagine if Halladay can compete at a high level again. How much of a steal would it be for the Braves (or any team) to sign him? Here’s how he looked in the previous four seasons before the shoulder issues:

Halladay would also bring a veteran presence in the rotation, something the Braves lost when Tim Hudson left for San Francisco.

Obviously, the Braves would need to get Halladay at a decent rate. Like many players have done in the past, Halladay could sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value for 2015, in which he could seek the final two- or three-year deal of his career.

It’s a gamble. But it’s no more of a gamble than what the Braves are dealing with when it comes to Beachy.


What Should the Braves Do?

As we saw late in 2013, having Hudson out of the rotation hurt the Braves. There was no veteran leader to set the tone for the rest of the staff.

Minor, Medlen, Teheran and others are more than capable of doing the job. But the Braves need a leader on the pitching side of things. Bringing in someone like Lackey, Halladay or even another veteran starting pitcher would be beneficial for the Braves.

It would help come September as the team looks to grab the top seed in the playoffs. Imagine if Hudson wasn’t injured last year. Would the Braves have lost the No. 1 seed to the Cardinals?

The Braves need veteran leadership with Hudson gone. Lackey or Halladay could provide that leadership. They have the experience and a proven track record. If either can be had for the right price, it’s something the Braves need to pull the trigger on.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Power Ranking All Red Sox Beards at the 2013 World Series

Sasquatch hunters would lose their minds if they happened across Fenway Park. The men of the 2013 Boston Red Sox own some of the gnarliest beards in baseball, and it’s about time we settle the argument of who has the best. 

I mean, seeing as how these players went through all of the trouble and weeks (hours when it comes to Jonny Gomes) to grow these things, we might as well judge them. 

From the scraggly to those who would make The Most Interesting Man in the World happy, we have you covered. 

Never before have a group of men been so lauded for merely not shaving. It’s time to celebrate laziness and superstitious playoff facial hair. 

We will also give you a non-baseball comparison of the first thing we think of when we see each beard. Feel free to play along. 

Now let’s see those mugs. 

Begin Slideshow

Boston Red Sox: John Lackey Proves He’s Just Terrible

There are two things in this world that I can’t stand: those intolerant of other people—and John Lackey.

I never cared for the man when he was in Anaheim and I cared even less for him when the Boston Red Sox decided to sign him in 2010.

I’m sick to death of his attitude and arrogant remarks, the latest only being another in a slew of stupidity.

In case you missed it, here we are in March of 2012, a full six months after the whole “beer and chicken” fiasco was exposed and five months longer than it should have taken Lackey to address the situation.

In a move that can only be classified as ill-advised, he went on the record by stating the following:

 “Guys having a beer after their start has been going on for the last 100 years,” Lackey said (Boston.com). “This is retarded. It’s not like we were sitting up there doing it every night. It’s not even close to what people think.”

No, perhaps it was not, but let’s face it: fans in Boston are tired of your act and tired of your 5.26 ERA in town. Voicing your opinion now about an issue that you should have saddled up and faced months ago is just poor timing and your choice of words was ever poorer.

I’m all for free-speech. I have to be, I’m a writer.

However, I believe in tact and courtesy.

He came back a day later and offered this apology:

“I apologize for my thoughtless choice of words that appeared in print earlier today. I meant no harm, and I am sorry to all I offended.”

It just doesn’t cut it for me.

There are very few things that light my fire, but having an apathetic, overpaid baseball player make silly and crass remarks out of sheer ignorance just gets my fire lit.

Okay, and it might be exacerbated by my dislike for Lackey in general. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Copyright © 1996-2010 Kuzul. All rights reserved.
iDream theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress