Thursday, October 22, 2009

Did John Lackey Just Pitch His Way Onto The Mets?

John Lackey has been with the Angels since 2002, when he helped them win the World Series. He has been the heart and soul of their pitching staff for eight seasons. Now he may have thrown his last pitch for Los Angeles/Anaheim/California. Is it possible that his performance for the Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS just earned him a contract for the 2010 Mets?

The Mets need a proven #2 starter to follow Johan Santana in the rotation. Mike Pelfrey and his 5.00-plus ERA just isn't cutting it. Lackey's consistency and bulldog mentality would form a great lefty-righty tandem with Santana.

Let's see just how consistent Lackey has been over his career. He started out slowly for the Angels from 2002-2004. Over his first three seasons, Lackey was just a .500 pitcher, going 33-33 with a 4.44 ERA. However, as he gained experience, he also became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Witness his seasons from 2005-2009:
  • 2005: 14-5, 3.44 ERA
  • 2006: 13-11, 3.56 ERA
  • 2007: 19-9, 3.01 ERA
  • 2008: 12-5, 3.75 ERA
  • 2009: 11-8, 3.83 ERA
That's five consecutive seasons facing a DH in every game (other than interleague games in National League parks) with ERAs under 4.00. His 3.01 ERA in 2007 led the American League. He is also one of only six pitchers in baseball to win at least 11 games in each of the last six seasons, with the other five being potential teammate Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Jason Marquis.

For the five-year stretch mentioned above, Lackey is a combined 69-38 with a 3.49 ERA. He has also walked only 282 batters in 150 starts made over those five years, an average of less than two walks per start.

The Mets struggled with their control all year in 2009. Lackey's impeccable control would surely help the pitching staff. He walked 52 batters or less in each of the past three seasons. Compare that to the 58 walks surrendered by Oliver Perez in only 14 starts this season.

In addition to his excellent work in the regular season, Lackey has plenty of playoff experience, making 12 starts over five different postseasons. His ERA in those 12 starts is 3.12, which is even better than his regular season ERA. Also, opposing hitters have only hit 4 HR off Lackey in 78 career postseason innings.

Lackey has proven that he can step up his game when his team needs it the most, unlike certain members of the current Mets staff. When the Angels needed him in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, he was the winning pitcher as a rookie. With their backs against the wall in Game 5 of this year's ALCS, Lackey pitched beautifully, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings, although those runs did not score while he was in the game (no thanks to former Met Darren Oliver). He wants the ball at all times and is not afraid to speak his mind when he feels that he's still the best option to get a hitter out (as seen by his "this game is mine" comment that lip readers could recognize when Mike Scioscia removed him from Game 5 against the Yankees).

Who wouldn't want him on the Mets? Probably the people whose names would appear on the bottom of his paycheck. Lackey will not come cheap. More than likely, it will take at least five years and an average annual value of $16-$18 million to sign him. He has definitely earned those dollars with his consistency over the past five years. However, if Lackey agrees to a five-year deal, he would be almost 36 when the contract expires in 2014. $18 million might be a lot to give to a pitcher on the statistical downside of his career.

As with all pitchers, the Mets must be careful not to overpay for a pitcher who might give them great performances over the first part of the contract, followed by a dropoff afterwards (see Pedro Martinez). However, Lackey might give them a good reason to make an exception. After all, he began both the 2008 and 2009 seasons on the disabled list but came back both times to pitch as well as he did before each injury occurred.

If Lackey doesn't re-sign with Los Angeles/Anaheim/California/Disneyland/Wallyworld, then the Wilpons should open up their wallets to bring him to Citi Field. The Mets haven't had a potential dominant 1-2 punch since...heck, I have no idea! That's how long it's been.

If the power outage suffered by the Mets in 2009 continues in 2010, then they will have to outpitch their opponents. Having Santana and Lackey on the mound for 40% of their games will surely help them improve from their dismal 2009 season. Let's get it done and make John Lackey a Met in 2010!

No comments: