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Checking the Temperature on John Lackey

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Introducing a new feature, with food jokes, in the least appetizing way possible.

John Lackey is literally always doing this. How does he pitch?!
John Lackey is literally always doing this. How does he pitch?!
Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Today on McCovey Chronicles, we’re going to introduce a new offseason feature, which will last until the 2016 roster is set and/or Reuben gets bored of this gimmick: the Hot Stove Temperature Check. We’ll look at a recent Giants-related trade or signing rumor and go over a few different categories, rating it for veracity, value, improvement, and intrigue. This will help us determine just how hot the stove is - whether it’s a red-hot burner boiling over, or a tepid oven that might not even have a working pilot light.

Our test case for this is one John Lackey.

Veracity: is this a plausible rumor?

I’d say so. Career-wise, Lackey is pretty similar to 2013 Tim Hudson – a cagey veteran whose days of Cy Young contention are long behind him, but has showed the ability to succeed with diminished stuff. The Giants could throw a chunk of change at him to stabilize the rotation and still be fringe players in the high-end pitching market.

It makes sense on Lackey’s end, too. At 37, he won’t seek a long contract, but he’ll want immediate value eclipsing the $15.8 million he just turned down; the Giants have the payroll for that. He’s got his rings (more on that later), but you can always get more; if he wants to be high-profile, he’ll be on a team that is both a postseason contender but desperately in need of his services. That’s a rare combination!

Finally, the rumor comes via the unimpeachable Ken Rosenthal. So yeah, this could certainly happen.

Value: is this a smart move?

Let’s look at that Hudson deal again. For 20 million, Hudson was very good for three-quarters of a season, kinda pooped the bed in the last quarter, and then didn’t do much in his second season (besides his immortal duel with Barry Zito). His playoff starts weren’t exactly essential viewing either. But then, the 2014 Giants don’t stumble into the postseason in the first place without that first ¾-season. Still, there’s a case to be made that the 20 million spent on Hudson could have been spent better elsewhere.

But Lackey has some advantages over Hudson. He’s a year and a half younger than Hudson was before he signed, has three less seasons worth of mileage on his arm, and isn’t coming off a horrible ankle injury. Lackey’s 2011 was wretched (more on that later) and he lost his 2012 to Tommy John surgery, but his three seasons since that have been very solid. He’s a better bet than Hudson; of course, he’ll also want more money.

And that’s what makes that a tough question to answer. At Hudson’s 2 years/20 million, this is absolutely a smart move; Lackey’s not settling for 2/20. Daily Dish expects him to get a two- or three-year deal, while Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing (done by readers, not trained professionals or even dancing monkeys like me) predicts a median of 2/30. That’s not bad. Even if he holds out something more like 3 years and 35-40 million (or similar option-related chicanery), that could be manageable for a guy with Lackey’s numbers.

Improvement: will this make the Giants better in 2016 and onwards?

And about those numbers: they’re good. Over his last three seasons, Lackey has averaged just over 200 innings with a 3.35 ERA. His strikeout-walk numbers are comparable to mid-career Matt Cain; he doesn’t have the dinger-suppression magic, but he also keeps the ball on the ground more to compensate. If Lackey doesn’t immediately implode, he’ll definitely make the 2016 Giants better.

After that? Tough call. We saw what happened to Hudson. Lackey’s having a very good late-career renaissance, but he’s still an old pitcher. Old Roy Halladay was an emotionless death machine who ate a big bowl of broken bats for breakfast every morning, and then he wasn’t. Old Cliff Lee was a crafty mad scientist plotting three-dimensional models in the strike zone, pitch by pitch, and then he wasn’t. Lackey’s held on well past the point where other pitchers slid into the Sarlaac, but that’s not predictive of anything.

Whoever pays John Lackey is paying him to be good in 2016, and crossing their fingers for 2017; if they have to pay him in 2018, any major league pitches he throws that year will be found money. But the Giants really, really need a pitcher to be good in 2016. Lackey fits the bill.

Intrigue: is this rumor interesting/cool/exciting?

Oh my word, no.

Remember all that "more on this later" from previous? Those were references to Lackey’s well-chronicled history of being a real dingus. Leaving aside sordid and debatable off-field stuff (which you can Google if you’re really into it), he was one of the ringleaders of the Red Sox’s historic chicken-and-beer collapse. His public presence is generally described with words like "surly" or "jerk" or "angrily muttering ham sandwich." How does it sound having John Lackey in the clubhouse? Let’s ask John Lackey.

Does that matter on the field? Probably not. It’s not like he choked David Ortiz; the chicken-and-beer thing doesn’t have to mean anything more than no lunch dates with Hunter Pence. And the Giants have previously employed players who don’t get on well with the press and, uh, it went pretty okay. Except...it went most okay in 2002. Very okay, but not as okay as it could possibly have. Who had it the most okay in 2002?

Year Age Tm Lg Series Rslt Opp W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2002 23 ANA AL ALDS W NYY 0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 0 0 3.0 3 0 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 0 13 1.333 9.0 0.0 3.0 9.0 3.00
2002 23 ANA AL ALCS W MIN 1 0 1.000 0.00 1 1 0 0 0 0 7.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 7 0 0 0 23 0.429 3.9 0.0 0.0 9.0
2002 23 ANA AL WS W SFG 1 0 1.000 4.38 3 2 0 0 0 0 12.1 15 6 6 0 5 4 7 0 0 0 54 1.622 10.9 0.0 3.6 5.1 1.40
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/25/2015.

Oh screw you, John Lackey.

This rumor is believable. It makes sense on-field. It’s likely to make the Giants better, at least for a bit. But it doesn’t make them excitingly better – we’re not talking about a Bumgarner co-ace here – and it’s not likely to be some kind of value steal. And then we all have to root for John Lackey. Not even some kind of wacky redemption story or a Giants-killer made good. Just...John Lackey.

The Hot Stove Temperature of this rumor is a tepid 300 degrees. Too hot for some good slow-cooking, but too cool to really sizzle. You’re probably just going to end up with a vague sense that you could have done something better, and depending on what you're cooking, you might make yourself very, very sick.