COMMENTARY | What should Boston Red Sox fans expect from John Lackey? This has to be one of the more curious questions entering the 2013 season.
Lackey missed 2012 after Tommy John surgery. Before the injury, Lackey had been a disaster in Boston, posting a 5.40 ERA, with a 1.59 WHIP in two years of work. He also gave up over 200 hits in each season. That's something he hadn't done since 2007. Needless to say, Lackey hasn't been pitching up to the expectations of his five-year, $82.5 million deal.
However, it hasn't just been his pitching performances that's irked fans and the media. Lackey has been connected to numerous incidents that have become infamous. He was one of the pitchers who spent time during games playing video games while drinking beer and eating chicken. He then compounded the problem by calling the entire incident "retarded," catching a lot of heat for good reason.
Needless to say Lackey won't be winning any popularity polls any time soon. Though one could imagine that many of these incidents could be as bothersome if Lackey pitched well. Much like most things in sports, winning tends to cure all. It could probably be the case as well for Lackey, who should be healthy and ready to go for spring training. The question is, can he pitch well?
There are some things that will favor Lackey in 2013. First off, he is healthy. Lackey's surgery was successful, and he is expected to be in better health than ever in his career with Boston. Lackey won't be expected to be anything more than a low-end starting pitcher, so the pressure on him will be minimal. This will hopefully allow him to get a better jump on this season. He is still expected to be a double-digit winner and to demonstrate improved pitching.
Then there is the fact that Lackey has been reunited with John Farrell. Farrell, the new manager of the Red Sox, was the pitching coach in Boston when Lackey signed on as a free agent in 2010. While he wasn't great in year one, Lackey did post much better numbers than he did without Farrell.
All of this doesn't necessarily guarantee a good year for Lackey. He's unquestionably overrated. Even though he is making $15.25 million a year, he doesn't necessarily deserve it. Lackey is a career 4.10 ERA pitcher. His best season was in 2007 where he finished with 19 wins and a 3.01 ERA. Since then, Lackey's ERA has increased yearly, even ballooning up to 6.41 in 2011, the worst of his career. His career WHIP (1.345) is also very pedestrian. So far, it has turned out to be another contract that Boston completely missed on.
Lackey also has to deal with making a comeback on a team that is expected to struggle. This means the media and fans are not exactly ready to give him any breaks at all, especially with his history in the town. The majority of Red Sox Nation is not going to give him any leeway. The first run he gives up, the first scowl, the first excuse made, or the first snide remark in a press conference will set off the fanbase like a brush fire.
Red Sox Nation doesn't want to see John Lackey fail. They need his success considering Boston's lack of starting depth (which is another issue to deal with). That being said, they certainly want to see the man squirm.
Chris Sedenka is a Yahoo! Contributor in Sports covering the Boston Red Sox. You can listen to his daily radio show on 96.3FM in Portland, ME or at thebigjab.com. He is also the voice of the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisSedenka.
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