The Chicago Cubs took a break from the Cactus League Monday, but John Lackey kept his rhythm going with a minor league start against the Los Angeles Angels.
Through six innings Lackey struck out six and allowed nearly nothing out of the infield.
Of course, that’s precisely what you’d hope for out of an established Major Leaguer facing a lineup of minor leaguers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to see. Lackey appears to be on track for the regular season.
However, there were some very vocal concerns from some Cubs fans when John Lackey signed with the North Siders – his age, and perceived personality, chief among them. But the Cubs front office, coaching staff and players agree that Lackey’s experience and competitive nature will be a positive on the team. I want to address that idea today, so let’s begin with his age.
Whether a guy is 37 or 27, most pitchers are standing at the precipice of injury. And, although that may sound dramatic, I mean it in a very general sense. Most guys go out there every fifth day and unleash fury on the arm in unnatural ways. If you don’t expect one of your starting pitchers to get injured in a given season, you’re playing against the odds. Of course, some will (rightfully) argue that old age is a reason for greater concern, but I’d counter that so is a unique delivery or physically stressful repertoire or (a thousand other things). Point being, you can’t cherry pick Lackey’s age, in isolation, because that is but one factor among many and each player is different from the every other.
For example, in three straight years, Lackey has averaged over 200 innings (from ages 34-36) with just under 3.0 WAR/season. His age will catch up to him one day, no doubt, but there’s reason to believe in his late career resurgence and health. He isn’t likely to repeat his success from 2015, but I’d bet very few believed he’d even do that, before last season. Don’t discount Lackey’s effort. He’s a competitive person and won’t fail for lack of trying … which brings me to his perceived personality.
Here’s what Theo Epstein had to say, via Sahadev Sharma at the Athletic:
“We’re going to have that bullseye on our back a little bit this year. You can’t take games off, you can’t sacrifice a game because it’s after an off day or not show up on a given Tuesday night in Milwaukee in May …. You have to show up every night. And I think John demands that kind of focus and accountability when he pitches. And I think that carries over to the rest of the team. I do like the way his personality fits in to what we’re trying to accomplish and the rest of his teammates.”
“I do like the way his personality fits …” is something that stuck with me from the quote above. Would you want a team full of Lackey-level intensity? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he won’t complement the team quite nicely.
Imagine building a lineup: you wouldn’t want a group of exclusively power hitters, without anyone to get on base, and you wouldn’t want a bunch of speedsters, without anyone to drive them in – it’s a balance. And whether or not you agree with the way Lackey handles himself, there’s no denying that his years of experience, baseball knowledge, and serious, competitive nature is something the Cubs couldn’t use. He’ll go about his business, while setting an example for some of the younger players.
We often shy away from discussing such intangible, immeasurable qualities, but there’s no denying that these sorts of things exist and have a real impact on the game. I for one am glad to have Lackey’s abilities and characteristics in Chicago for the next two years.