The Chicago Cubs starting rotation isn’t half bad, eh?
Three starts ago, John Lackey lasted 7.0 innings against the Phillies, giving up just 1 earned run. Five days later, he followed that up with another scoreless 6.2 innings against the Diamondbacks. But, unlike Lester and Hendricks, he never got his dedicated post.
Well, after Wednesday’s performance, I’d say he’s more than earned it. In his start last night against the Phillies, John Lackey went 7 innings, giving up no earned runs, on just 3 hits, no walks and 8 strikeouts. It’s been a a heck of a stretch for Lackey who discussed his start, his season and number of other topics with reporters after yesterday’s game (CSN Chicago, Cubs.com).
Over his last three starts, going back to the first matchup against the Phillies, Lackey has gone 20.2 innings, giving up just 1 earned run (0.44 ERA) on a homer, while pairing 6 walks (8.0%) with 23 strikeouts (30.7%). Eight of those strikeouts came on Wednesday night:
According to Brooks Baseball, Lackey was operating around 92 MPH with his fastball, which was his most used and most effective pitch of the night. Of the 46 he threw, 30 fell in for strikes, seven of which were of the swing and miss variety. In total, Lackey got 14 swings and misses from his fastball (7), changeup (1), slider (3) and curveball (3) – the exact same amount Lester got in his start on Tuesday. We’ve discussed Lackey’s ability to change his strategy in an innings notice, but yesterday he was attacking all day, setting batters up and getting the strikeouts when he needed them.
Lackey’s manager, Joe Maddon, echoes a similar sentiment (Cubs.com): “He knows what he’s doing out there. He does different things with hitters to really set them up …. There’s no way to sit on him. He’s very unpredictable and he’s very smart.” Such is the review of a veteran starting pitcher who’s been around as long as Lackey. For most guys, the knowledge of the game starts to filter in just as their talent starts to drift away and they’re never able to combine both at once. For Lackey, well, you’ve seen how good he’s been.
The Cubs are on pace to flirt with the record for most wins in a season right now, but Lackey is unsurprised. In fact, Lackey chose the Cubs specifically because they looked ready to be a very strong team. “When you’re looking around as a free agent,” Lackey said, “that’s one of the reasons you come here – the talent base is really good.” I get the feeling that Lackey is one of those guys that thrives under the pressure, under the spotlight – a guy that needs a strong competitive team that he can push and who can push him back.
Although Lackey’s starts over his last three games are impressive, the positives don’t end there. For the season, Lackey is now the owner of a 2.63 ERA with peripheral statistics to support it. Check out where he ranks among other qualified starters so far in 2016:
- ERA: 2.63 (16th)
- FIP: 2.99 (16th)
- xFIP: 3.37 (11th)
- K-rate: 27.1% (14th)
- BB-rate: 6.1% (34th)
- K/BB: 4.42 (12th)
- fWAR: 2.1 (T-12th with Jon Lester)
The Cubs’ rotation (9.7 fWAR) has been utterly unbelievable this season, worth an incredible 1.1 fWAR more than the second place Mets (8.6 fWAR). They’re tops in ERA (2.30), FIP (2.96), xFIP (3.39) and John Lackey has been a big part of that. This team was always known for its offense (and don’t get me wrong, they’ve been fantastic), but damn, the pitching. En fuego.