When the obituary of the 2010 Red Sox season is written -- and we are getting really close to putting it in ink -- you'll hear plenty about injuries.
And that's fair of course. From Martinez to Beckett to Pedroia to Youkilis to Buchholz to Ellsbury to Cameron it's been a nightmare season.
But that's just one reason the Sox aren't going to make the playoffs in 2010. A big reason to be sure, a co-star even. But there is another reason.
Two reasons, actually.
Josh Beckett and John Lackey.
Here's an average combined season from Beckett and Lackey, taking their career totals before 2010:
26 wins, 3.80 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
And here's the return on $29.1 million in 2010:
16 wins, 5.25 ERA, 1.49 WHIP
That's 264.2 innings from Beckett and Lackey this season that you wouldn't want from a fifth starter, let alone a pair of guys who were supposed to anchor your staff in 2010.
Lackey leads the American League in hits allowed (201) and postgame excuses (46 and counting), but Beckett has actually allowed more hits per nine innings than Lackey. Both have career worsts in WHIP and hits per nine innings. Beckett has the worst ERA of his career (by a run and a half) while Lackey is working on his worst season in walks per nine innings and K/BB ratio.
There are 47 pitchers in the American League who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Lackey ranks 37th. WHIP? 43rd. If Beckett had the innings to qualify he'd be last in ERA and 40th in WHIP (Beckett has been top eight in the AL in WHIP for each of the last three seasons). Not the sort of one-two punch that leads to rolling Duck Boat parades.
You could almost find a way to put those numbers aside if Lackey and Beckett had stepped up a few times against the two teams the Red Sox have been chasing all year. Problem is, the two have made a total of 11 starts against the Rays and Yankees with a record of 2-5 with an ERA of 6.60.
Put it another way: It is August 30 and Hideki Okajima -- having by far the worst season of his career -- has more wins against the Yankees than John Lackey and Josh Beckett combined.
You know, a fast look at Beckett's baseball-reference page might not find the answer to what has led to this. Yes, his K's are down, but just a little. And he's walked 2.9 batters per nine innings, which is right about at his career average (2.7). But what he's doing is giving up hits at a truly alarming total.
Entering this season he had never given up nine hits per nine innings -- this year he's at 10.4. Opponents are batting .286 against Beckett this season, 30 points higher than any of his seasons in Boston. And this isn't a bunch of bloopers and seeing-eye specials, either. Beckett has held opposing batters to a .398 slugging percentage in his career -- right about what Daniel Nava this season (one HR in 116 AB). But in 2010 opponents have a .496 slugging percentage against Beckett -- which is exactly Vladimir Guerrero's number for the season (24 HR, 96 RBI).
Beckett's been so bad this season (allowed eight or more hits in more than half his starts) that you almost hope the struggles are related to some lingering injury and not a matter of loss of stuff or the beginning of a decline phase. Is there a Sox fan (or team official) who wouldn't sign up for 15-10 with a 4.00 ERA from Beckett as a seasonal average over the life of his contract? Not the most ambitious wish heading into four more years at $68 million, but it's reality. Beckett isn't an ace. He's paid like one, treated like one and might think of himself as one, but let me give you a little Pitcher A, Player B.
Pitcher A: 69 wins, 4.29 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
PItcher B: 67 wins, 3.97 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
Pitcher A is Beckett since he joined the Red Sox in 2006. Pitcher B is Bronson Arroyo since he joined the Reds in 2006.
I get that adjustments have to be made for AL vs. NL, but the point is that it's close. And I don't hear anyone calling Bronson Arroyo an ace. Might be time to put that kind of talk about Beckett to bed until he has another 2007 kind of season.
John Lackey is being paid $18.7 million this year, the most ever in a single season for a Red Sox pitcher. By a lot. He's being paid more than four times as much as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz -- combined. Remember how Lackey is 37th in the AL in ERA? He's being paid more than the top five pitchers in that category -- combined (Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, Jered Weaver, Dallas Braden and Felix Hernandez).
And the reality is that the Red Sox probably didn't figure that Lackey would be a Cy Young candidate when they signed him to the $82.5 million deal. They overpaid, OK, but at least they would get a sure thing. Durability, high teens in wins, ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00's, and the security that a "big-game pitcher" would be on the mound in, well, big games. No chance of a Zito or Mike Hampton or Carlos Zambrano-sized flop here. At the worst you'd get a perfectly representative third starter.
Well, he has been durable, to be fair. Almost $19 million for an innings eater. But that's been about it. So far, and we are not even one year in, the Sox would have been better off just leaving Wakefield in the rotation and saving the money.
The guy that shut the Red Sox down in Game 1 of the ALDS last year? Nowhere to be found. Lackey had two legitimate chances to validate his lost season in August. First was a matchup with CC Sabathia on August 7. The Sox had won the night before (Buchholz over Vazquez) to move within five games. And when Victor Martinez homered off Sabathia the Sox had a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Lackey kept that lead for exactly two outs. His final line? Six innings, eight hits, five runs and a loss. Sabathia -- who is paid like an ace and pitches like one -- went eight innings and gave up just the two runs. (Isn't the ability to go deep into the game another measure of an ace? Outs recorded after the seventh inning this season: Sabathia 27, Lackey and Beckett 14. That's combined.)
Is it unfair to ask Lackey to shut down the Yankees over eight innings? Not at $18.7 million it isn't, nope. That is the exactly the kind of spot they brought him in for, not just to beat the Mariners in May. (And forget Beckett vs. the Yankees -- every time he faces them he turns into Aron Garcia vs. Taiwan.)
And then there was Sunday night. Another blown two-run lead, an eerily similar line to the Yankees loss (6 1/3 IP, nine hits and five runs) and another wasted chance to demonstrate that he is still the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting.
Is there any question that Theo would take a mulligan if offered on both Beckett and Lackey's contracts? Both are signed through 2014 at a total of $129 million. Each has been progressively worse since 2007 and will be in his mid-30's when the deals are done. This is now Lester and Buchholz's rotation and it was a torch passed without a fight. Beckett and Lackey haven't even been serviceable No. 3 or No. 4 starters.
The truth is that if Lackey and Beckett were pitching anywhere close to their established form you would be looking at an all-time Red Sox rotation. Four No. 1 or 1A guys, the kind of group that could carry a team to a World Series.
But that's not going to happen this year.
"We’re what, five, six games behind?" Lackey said after Sunday's loss. "I’m not a math whiz, but I think it’s doable."
No, it isn't. Blame the injuries if you wish, but this would be a three-team race if Beckett and Lackey had shown up in 2010.