Don't be shocked, but this is the answer: John Lackey.
And this is the question: Who will rebound after a tough 2010 season?
It shouldn't be a shock, but to some it may be. Lackey, after signing a deal exceeding $15 million per season following the 2009 campaign, had one of his worst seasons as a professional in 2010. It was his introductory year as a Red Sox, and the final product wasn't pretty: 4.40 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and a H/9 that nearly encroached on 10.
A $15 million pitcher does not do that. Or, more fitting, a pitcher that does that is not worth $15 million.
The numbers, though, are skewed.
Of Lackey's 33 starts, 21 were recorded as "quality starts" -- meaning he pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer runs. That was eighth-best in the American League, and the best on the Red Sox (Jon Lester had 20 quality starts).
This tells us that when Lackey was good, he was good. And when he was bad, oh boy ... was he bad.
In his 14 wins, Lackey had a 3.38 ERA with a 2.46 SO/BB rate. In his 11 losses, Lackey's ERA ballooned to 7.53 with a 1.75 SO/BB rate.
Lackey also racked up a 4.0 WAR (wins above replacement), which was the 14th best in the AL for pitchers. That ranked behind Lester (5.6 WAR) and ahead of Clay Buchholz (3.7) on the club.
In short, he's an enigma.
Perhaps Lackey's biggest problem was the fact he wasn't throwing strikes. Lackey has always been one of the league's best sniffers of the strike zone. He doesn't necessarily strike out a lot of batters (7.12 K/9 career), but he rarely walked them, with his BB/9 in his last few years with the Angels fell in the low 2.00s.
Last season, though, he walked 72, the most since 2002. Opponents swung at 44.7 percent of Lackey's pitches last season (one of the lowest percentages in the A.L.), which is good -- but not when he's not striking out batters. Opponents were waiting him out and not swinging until he very well just walked them.
Lackey can fix all this if he pounds the strikezone and cuts down on his walks. If his stuff is the same or, hopefully, even better, Lackey should return to his pre-2010 numbers.
Another thing that may have ailed Lackey last season was transition. Lackey was going from the West Coast to the East Coast. More specifically he signed with Boston -- one of the hardest places to play in baseball considering fan expectations and media scrutiny. With one year under his belt, Lackey could be a brand new, calmer pitcher. He understands the pressures now and he can adapt. Hopefully.
Josh Beckett went through a similar transition. He went from Florida as a star in a media-friendly environment to Boston. His first year was a bust and people were worried that the Sox were on the wrong end of the Hanley Ramirez trade. The next year, Beckett almost won the Cy Young -- check that: should have won the Cy Young -- and the Red Sox were awarded with a World Series trophy.
The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are nice, of course, but adding an effective John Lackey to the rotation would be worth its weight in gold for the Red Sox. With Jon Lester being Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (hopefully) keeping up the pace from 2010 (let's not get into Beckett and Daisuke Matuszaka ... not yet, at least), Lackey would give the Sox another ace to make a serious run at another World Series trophy.
Don't be shocked, because it might just happen.
THE DAY THE A.L. EAST STOOD STILL
Manny Ramirez. Johnny Damon. Mike Napoli.
All in one day.
In just one day, two former Red Sox (and Idiots) signed to play in the A.L. East and another Red Sox killer named Jack Parkman (er, Napoli) is traded to the same division.
If trading for Adrian Gonzalez was Christmas and signing Carl Crawford was New Year's Eve, Friday was the 6:45 a.m. wakeup call on New Year's Day with a throbbing headache, dry mouth and the urge to grab the closest bucket.
While some think Ramirez and Damon are over the hill, there's no doubt they'd like to do some damage to the Red Sox. I don't care if Ramirez is 47 years old and his knees are laced with arthritis, he'd still hit 10 home runs in 12 at-bats against the Sox. That's just the way it works.
I'm more concerned about Napoli. No matter the situation, it seems that Nap always comes up with the big hit against the Red Sox. And the numbers reflect that -- six home runs in 24 games (one every 13.3 at-bats, which is better than his career one HR every 17 at-bats). Remember Game 3 of the 2008 ALDS? Not only did he hit two home runs against Josh Beckett, but he also scored the game-winning run in the 12th inning.
Now the Sox will see him 18 times next season. Eighteen times too many, in fact.