As we continue our series of Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB season shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, we now focus on John Lackey. Lackey won three World Series in his career, one each with the Angels, Red Sox and Cubs.
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Why is he on the ballot?
Lackey had success at many different points of his career. In his rookie season, he went 9-4 in 18 starts with a 3.66 ERA, which was good for a 121 ERA+ with the 2002 Angels. He finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting (as Eric Hinske won the award) before playing a major part in the Angels winning the World Series. He pitched 10 shutout innings between the ALDS and ALCS and made the start in game 7 of the World Series, going five innings with one run allowed and getting the win. He would make his one and only All-Star game with the Angels in 2007, when he won the AL ERA title at 3.01, good for a 150 ERA+ which also led the AL and he finished third in Cy Young voting as CC Sabathia won the award with more innings and strikeouts.
After his career was in danger following an awful 2011 season and Tommy John surgery wiping out his 2012 season, Lackey bounced back with a 117 ERA+ in 2013, though he would go just 10-13 in spite of his Red Sox winning 97 games. Lackey once again came up with big postseason moments, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings in his ALCS game 3 start, then once again winning the World Series-clinching game with 6 2/3 innings and one run allowed in game 6.
He received Cy Young award votes again in 2015 as he posted a 142 ERA+ with the Cardinals, posting an ERA below 3.0 for the first time in his career. The Cubs signed him that offseason, and in 2016 he put together a 125 ERA+ in the regular season but struggled in the playoffs with a 4.85 ERA and an 0-1 record in three starts, though the Cubs won both of his no-decisions and ultimately won their first World Series since 1908.
Why won’t he make the Hall of Fame?
In five of Lackey’s 15 career seasons, he had an ERA+ below 100 and he only topped 130 twice. His career ERA of 3.92 is higher than any current Hall of Fame pitcher, and his ERA+ of 110 would be on the very low end as well. Lackey only made one All-Star team and he was only top-5 in Cy Young voting once. From 2005-2009, the best stretch of his career, he ranked 10th in the MLB in pitcher WAR. In his resurgence from 2013-2016, he ranked 20th. Though no individual pitcher was higher than Lackey for both of those stretches, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernández and Justin Verlander were all in the top 30 in pitcher WAR from 2005-2009 and ahead of Lackey from 2013-2016.
Seeing that no one was ahead of him in both of those stretches made me wonder how high Lackey ranks from 2005-2016 in pitcher WAR, even though between those two peaks he had -0.2 WAR from 2010-2012. Lackey Ranks 15th in pitcher WAR from 2005-2016, behind players like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, who didn’t debut until 2008, Roy Halladay, who retired in 2013, and Johan Santana, who retired in 2012. Lackey’s 32.0 WAR in that span wasn’t exactly Hall of Fame pace, and for the rest of his career he produced just 5.3 more.
Lackey deserves credit for his playoff success. He pitched very well in the postseason, as his 1.38 playoff win probability added suggests. But it was never even enough to win a series MVP, and it isn’t enough to push an above-average career into the Hall of Fame. JAWS ranks Lackey as just the 215th-best starting pitcher in MLB history, with 65 starting pitchers enshrined in Cooperstown.
Up next: Jacoby Ellsbury.
Stats and info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.