As of last night, the members of the Cubs starting rotation have thrown the fourth most innings in all of baseball (688.2 IP).
Indeed, of the three teams ahead of them (Giants, Nationals, and Blue Jays), only the Cubs (8.o IP) have received less than 10.0 innings from anyone not in their original starting five.
Which means that the Cubs original five starters in 2016 have not only been very good (4th most fWAR, best ERA), they’ve also been extremely consistent, healthy, and willing to carry the entire staff as long as they are allowed to stay on the field.
Leading that charge, believe it or not, is the Cubs’ nominal third starter, John Lackey. After last night’s eight inning, three hit, one run performance, Lackey now leads the Cubs with 151.2 innings pitched this season – seventh best in MLB. As a member of the staff that essentially leads the Majors in innings pitched, Lackey, then, is the workhorse among workhorses.
And hey, he’s been pretty good, too.
The final line from Lackey’s latest start reads 8.0 innings pitched, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 1 walk, and six strikeouts. He threw 102 total pitches, 66 of which fell in for strikes, 10 of which came on swings and misses. But keeping the actual results separate for a moment, Lackey’s ability to consistently last deep into ballgames has proved invaluable for this Cubs team – visible or not. Last night, for example, the Cubs needed to use only one reliever – Pedro Strop – to finish the game. Given Hector Rondon’s recent triceps soreness and the relatively small 7-man bullpen (for the Cubs), Lackey’s start was a gift for Joe Maddon.
But it wasn’t exactly unexpected.
If you can believe it, Lackey has failed to go at least six innings just two times this entire season (and he was one out away in one of them). Yep, through 23 starts in 2016, Lackey has made it through 6.0 full innings a ridiculous 21 times. Of the six pitchers ahead of him (in IP), he’s tied for second in that regard (Madison Bumgarner) and behind only Max Scherzer. That’s the company you’d like to keep. But again, he hasn’t just been an innings eater. Lackey has more than held his own this season, and looks pretty good overall.
Check out how Lackey’s 2016 season ranks out in a variety of statistics, compared to the National League and baseball as a whole (among qualified starters):
John Lackey 2016:
- ERA: 3.56 (18th in NL, 33rd in MLB)
- FIP: 3.76 (19th in NL, 31st in MLB)
- xFIP: 3.72 (17th in NL, 26th in MLB)
- K-Rate: 25.1% (10th in NL, T-14th in MLB)
- BB-Rate: 7.0% (21st in NL, 41st in MLB)
- K/BB: 3.60 (17th in NL, 30th in MLB)
As you can see, Lackey has certainly been one of the best 30 starters in all of baseball this season, and you can make a case for top 25-ish, if you squint. In fact, I’m not sure all that much squinting is required. If it weren’t for an unusually high 13.0% home run to fly ball ratio (more than three percentage points greater than his career average), Lackey’s actual results would be right up there among the very best.
Of course, given the importance in his ability to last multiple innings, multiple times in a row, the actual results could be even worse and he’d still be a huge part of this Cubs team. If and when the Cubs find themselves in the playoffs this October, they’ll need to lean heavily on their bullpen. Saving those bullets now is a very real, very serious aspect to that success. Lackey, then, has helped in that regard more than any other pitcher on the Cubs’ staff.