How good is John Lackey and how rich is he about to be?

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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.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.