Base runners lead directly to runs. Pitchers that put on or allow many base runners to reach will naturally give up more runs over the course of 200 innings. As Boston Red Sox SP John Lackey has cut his WHIP from a career 1.34 to his 2013 mark of 1.22, his ERA has dropped accordingly. His ERA is nearly a run lower – 3.14 – than his career mark of 4.07. With a little good luck on balls in play and a little bad luck on homeruns, Lackey has rebounded off of Tommy John Surgery and is pitching like he did in his prime of the mid-2000s.
The impetus behind Lackey’s success is his 52.6% groundball rate. With a career mark of 43.5%, Lackey generally allows about 5% more line drives than he has this season. Line drives are very frequently hit, but groundballs can be swept up by the strong defense behind him. The Red Sox have been playing glove-first SS Jose Iglesias often this season, and Lackey has certainly been a beneficiary of this defensive emphasis.
While Lackey is not likely to sustain quite this level of success, this recent stretch of performance is very real. While his BABIP is slightly low for a pitcher allowing so many groundballs, the general shift towards good location and many groundballs will help Lackey keep his ERA under his career 4.07 for the remainder of the season.
Lackey’s xFIP of 3.51 – which normalizes homeruns and defense – is likely more indicative of what his rest-of-season performance should be. However, Lackey will still have plus defense behind him. The three premium defensive-positions behind Lackey are all filled by extremely strong defenders – Iglesias, 2B Dustin Pedroia and CF Jacoby Ellsbury. Lackey could continue to slightly outperform his peripherals and strongly outperform his expectations.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.