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

Oct 23, 2009, 3:01 PM EDT

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.

  1. smokehouse - Oct 25, 2009 at 12:14 AM

    Baseball is corrupt to the core. Do you people realize how the hell much one million dollars is? And we are expected to support the “home team” with high ticket prices, $5.00 hot dogs and $25.00 parking so we can pay those millions in owner and players salaries. AND we pay for the stadiums they play in and than the owners have the gall to charge us a seat license fee on top of the regular fee for season tickets in the stadiums WE OWN. If you support your “home team” you’re as dumb as a bucket of rocks.

  2. hop - Oct 25, 2009 at 1:54 AM

    First of all i’d like to tell smokehouse if he doesn’t like it? Go watch hockey brother!! You know something that even you can follow along with. Second of all Lackey ain’t worth what they are talking here and won’t ever get that kind of money so stop pipe dreaming! Ok enough said, carry on….

  3. William G Smith - Oct 25, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    I am a big fan of pro football and baseball. No one enjoys the games more than I. However, having said that, I think the salaries that these guys are pulling down is ABSURD!! IT’S ALOT OF MONEY TO PLAY A CHILD’S GAME.

  4. AK - Oct 26, 2009 at 3:26 PM

    “I think the salaries that these guys are pulling down is ABSURD!! IT’S ALOT OF MONEY TO PLAY A CHILD’S GAME.”
    while i agree with you the salary is absurb. but fans buying tickets to the game, buying the food, paying for the cable and what not are the ones that’s actually contributing to this effect. it’s really just supply and demand.
    If fans doesn’t show for the games, owners have no choice but to lower price, same for the food and what not. They can charge you that much becuase they CAN, since demand for them is still high. It will stay that way unless a group of fans feels that enough is enough and just stop supporting the team and feeding into this ‘demand’.

  5. Steve - Oct 26, 2009 at 8:58 PM

    WHY must all these envious whiners post here? WHY are you reading about sports? NEWS FLASH: PRO athletes and entertainers make millions of dollars. Go cry about their salaries to Obama or some other Leftist who cares and stop reading and posting here.
    AND… it is NOT a child’s game. Children do play it. However, at the major league professional level, it’s a man’s game, not a child, and a tiny fraction of men alive can play it at the professional level.

  6. wongster - Oct 27, 2009 at 12:25 PM

    It is what it is… Baseball will not change… the Sports Economics will not change. Like hop said, it you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. That being said… back to baseball talk.
    I’m a die-hard baseball fan and huge Red Sox fan. Always have been and always will. Looking at next season, I would not be surprised if the Yankees signed Lackey after seeing what other teams offer. Like last year, they have a ton of money coming off the books and could do what they did last year this year: sign Lackey and Bay to contracts many can not match and most are unwilling to match. Great to be a Yankee fan. Bad for everyeone else. Am I saying this is bad for baseball? No. We’re just seeing the bad contracts they signed in the past expire allowing them to re-do what they did, but on the RIGHT players this time. CC, Burnett, and Tex gave them good to great character players. Add Lackey with CC and Burnett… best top 3. Then you have Joba and Hughes or Pettite (if he comes back) or Wang to round out the rest of the rotation. Then add Bay to that lineup… not that they need it, but Bay would replace Damon or Hideki. The next 5 years will be dominated by the Yankees like their previous 5 year dominance. Plus, two more great clubhouse guys.

  7. Bretwk - Oct 27, 2009 at 11:56 PM

    I dont get complaining about salaries and ticket prices and such. It is called a free market. If the players are earning the money they should get it. It is clearly a mirage of the right wing and plays into the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh rehotoric.
    Lets look at Arod for example. He is the highest paid player making $25 million a year (which I think is close to correct). I probably saw about 200 ABs of his this year. I have no idea, but I think that we can assume that there are easily another 1.25 million people who on average saw the same number of at bats. I can look at it as if I throw in a dime every time I see him hit. $20 bucks over the course of the season… well worth it. The best part of it is that I never actually spent $20. (maybe I did buy something in one of those commecials if that counts).
    Lackey is definately in the $70m to $85m range for 5 years. I would be shocked to see 100, but not $90m (although it would be too much). My prediction is that he gets $85m from a team like the Rangers, Dodgers, or the Mets.

  8. JC - Oct 28, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    Its a bit misleading to keep saying that with respect to individual player salaries we’re talking about a “free market,” considering that MLB is a pure monopoly that only exists because the government grants it special exemptions to the antitrust laws. Not to mention the heavy role that collective bargaining plays in determining individual salaries and contract terms. Its about as far from a free market as you can get.

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