John Lackey: Struggles 'overblown'

Updated: February 15, 2011, 10:47 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- All things considered, John Lackey contends he pitched pretty well in his first year in a Boston Red Sox uniform last season. For sure.

Certainly better than his critics would have you believe.

[+] EnlargeLackey
Steve Mitchell/US Presswire"I'm not saying I pitched great, I'm not saying that at all,'' Lackey said of last season. "I definitely could have pitched better.''

"Honestly, I think it was overblown,'' he said Monday about those who measured his season a disappointment. "I'd won 14 games only once in my life. I led the team in quality starts. Whatever. It kind of comes with it.''

And how does he know that it's been perceived that way?

"I've been asked about it 400 times since I've been here,'' he said.

Lackey points to the fact that he led the team in innings pitched (215) and quality starts (21, most by a Sox pitcher since 2004).

What goes unmentioned is that he allowed more baserunners than any pitcher in baseball last season, or ranked third in hits allowed, fifth in earned runs allowed, and walked a career-high 72 batters. Also unsaid is that he did his best pitching against his former rivals in the American League West (5-1, 2.98 ERA), compared with everybody else (9-10, 4.91 ERA).

And quality starts can be something of a misleading stat. You get credit for a quality start if you give up three or fewer earned runs in six innings. That will usually keep a team in a game, but that's not exactly shutdown pitching, and even Lackey admitted most of his quality starts were of the three-run variety.

Lackey also said that had he remained with the Angels last season, his performance would have been cast as a typical Lackey year ("an ERA of 3.6 or so") instead of something falling far short of that expected from a starter awarded the biggest contract ever given a pitcher by the Red Sox (five years, $82.5 million).

"I'm not saying I pitched great, I'm not saying that at all,'' he said. "I definitely could have pitched better.''

If there's a defensiveness in Lackey's analysis of his performance, there's also a desire to leave 2010 behind, point to his improvements in the second half (3.97 ERA compared with 4.78), and lean on the notion that coming to the AL East required some adjustments, and he's made them.

"It was tough, for sure,'' he said of adjusting to the East. "I wouldn't say it was more so than I was expecting. It was a little bit of a change. It took adjustments, and I think I made some towards the end.''

He also showed up in camp noticeably leaner this spring. He weighed in at around 242 Monday, he said, a difference of 13 pounds from the 255 he said he weighed last season. Lackey said the impetus for dropping the weight did not come from the club, even though team officials privately complained that he did not come to camp in good shape last season.

"I'm just trying to get myself the best chance possible to stay healthy and maintain a high level performance all year,'' he said. "We're all pretty excited about this season and want to be a part of it, for sure.''

Manager Terry Francona took note of Lackey's new look.

"The fact he's in such great shape will help,'' Francona said. "He looks terrific. Any time someone steps into camp, whether they're 22 or 32, and looks like they've worked hard, we're thrilled. A veteran guy, it's not easy to change your body. Obviously he spent a lot of time, hard work doing it. We hope it transfers on the field. I don't see how it will hurt him.''

Lackey acknowledged that having a better outfield defense, with a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron and the newly acquired Carl Crawford, should benefit him.

"I think I definitely pitch to contact, more so than some of our guys, so improved outfield defense should definitely help me,'' he said.

Lackey, for the second straight year, has a significant personal issue to deal with. A year ago, he was given the option of skipping his first start because of a situation involving he and his wife, Krista, that he asked be kept private. On Monday, a club official confirmed that Krista was diagnosed with breast cancer several months ago. Lackey, who mentioned at his media session that his wife had undergone treatments in California, told WEEI.com that she is doing well.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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