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Worse Contract: John Lackey or A.J. Burnett?


-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)

The 2011 MLB season began with the Boston Red Sox as the prohibitive favorites to win the AL Pennant due in large part to the strength and depth of the starting rotation.

The New York Yankees, while still picked by most to make the postseason, were looked at as the Wild Card due in large part to the weakness of their starting rotation.

CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have all been solid (in Lester’s case) to excellent (in Sabathia’s case). But as Boston has watched its massive, seemingly insurmountable Wild Card lead evaporate in a matter of days, the issues on the mound in Beantown cannot be ignored.

Since the Yankees beat the Red Sox on the first day of September 4-2, the Sox have struggled to get people out. This is obviously due in part to the loss of Josh Beckett – who missed a couple of starts because of a sprained ankle.

However, it's not just Beckett's bum ankle's fault. In September, the Red Sox are 3-11 overall and are allowing nearly seven runs per game. This is one of those times when a 5-year, $82.5 million pitcher is supposed to step in and save the sinking ship.

But John Lackey has been anything but worth his lofty price tag.

And to be honest (and I can’t believe I am saying this) A.J. Burnett’s identical 5-year, $82.5 million contract might actually be the smarter of the two deals.

Let’s look at the numbers in year one:

Lackey (2010): 215 IP, 14-11, 4.40 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 156 K, 72 BB
Burnett (2009): 207 IP, 13-9, 4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 195 K, 97 BB

It should be noted that Burnett helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009 by making five starts – in three of which he went at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs.

How about year number two:

Lackey (2011): 149.2 IP, 12-12, 6.19 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 101 K, 51 BB
Burnett (2010): 186.2 IP, 10-15, 5.26 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 145 K, 78 BB

Basically, through the first 40 percent of these indistinguishable contracts, the numbers are virtually identical – minus that one little World Series ring Burnett is polishing at the moment.

Lackey has yet to pitch in the postseason for the Red Sox. And he won’t if he can’t step up and help this team stop the bleeding. When it has mattered the most, Lackey has failed to answer the bell. Boston has lost his last four starts and five of his last six trips to the bump. He finished seven innings once in that span and allowed fewer than three runs a single time.

At the time of the contracts, I would have taken the Lackey deal every day of the week and twice on Sundays, but I am not sure I can say that any longer.