John Lackey of the Boston Red Sox reacts as manager Terry Francona, not seen, walks to mound to remove Lacey during a game with the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
A whole lot happened yesterday, with the Red Sox dropping game one of a doubleheader to the Orioles/Fightin' Showalters, and then scoring 18 runs in game two in one of the ugliest contests we've seen, but there are two items in particular that merit attention. As you can tell by the headline, those items are the starting pitchers from the doubleheader on Boston's side, Kyle Weiland and John Lackey.
Weiland was starting on three days rest, and it seemed like a good idea through the first two innings thanks to four strikeouts and no walks, but, as has been the case seemingly every time Weiland takes the mound in the majors, he stumbled, and then fell directly off the cliff, leading to his start's demise. Weiland is holding hitters to a line of just .182/.250/.303 through pitches 1-25, but they are beating him down relentlessly from pitches 26-50, to the tune of .469/.514/.656. Things don't get much better from pitches 51-75, as Weiland has allowed a .760 slugging thanks to three homers during those offerings, giving him an OPS+ of 215 in that situation. For reference, Jose Bautista, the leading MVP candidate in the eyes of many, has an OPS+ of 186 this year -- Weiland has turned every hitter into someone better than Jose Bautista after 50 pitches.
Whether it's fatigue or that his command and control just are not good enough to trick major league hitters for more than an inning or two is tough to tell at this point, as we're talking about all of 23-2/3 innings in the bigs. But, as was a worry with Weiland before he ever even entered the majors, it looks as if relief is in his future.
Weiland has the stuff to be a quality reliever, as when his secondary stuff works, he's deadly -- look at his first two innings, when he surgically removed Orioles' hitters from the game one at a time. Then there are times where his command is shaky, and things go south (or high, deep, and into the stands). In relief, where he can just give it his all for an inning or two in terms of velocity, and without needing to worry about setting hitters up for a five-to-six inning appearance, he may find his niche.
The counter-argument, of course, is that Weiland hasn't pitched enough as a starter in the majors for an opinion like this to form. He was great in Pawtucket as a starter, too, but domination at Triple-A doesn't necessarily equal even mediocrity in the majors -- it's a different ballgame, as Weiland's struggles against teams as lowly as the Orioles have reminded us.
As for Lackey, what's there to say we haven't already at some point this year? Except for that he's making things look even worse for himself from a historical point of view. Last week at Baseball Nation, I looked at Lackey's 2011 in terms of its place in Boston's history of awful pitching performances. The result? Lackey had the highest ERA ever for a pitcher with 150 innings pitched in a season for Boston, and was the lone pitcher over six. He was "just" third in ERA+, though, which compares Lackey contextually for a more accurate reflection of his performance. For example, the second-worst ERA+ in Sox' history is from George Winter, but it was just 4.12. Thing is, that was next to a league average ERA of 2.66, so it was even worse than Lackey's season.
Or was worse, I should say. Thanks to last night's performance against the Orioles, where Lackey went 4-1/3 innings while allowing eight runs, his ERA now stands at 6.49, and his ERA+ at 65. Also known as the worst ERA+ in the history of the Red Sox, minimum 150 innings pitched:
He's leading the league in runs allowed, has the highest ERA and ERA+ of the last 110 years of Boston history, and is still at .500 for the season. If you didn't already detest won-loss record for pitchers, I hope this is the nail in the coffin for you.