Are Lackey, Bay Cause For Worry?

Leave it to some who follow the Red Sox and Mets to worry prematurely about their big acquisitions, John Lackey and Jason Bay.

In the case of Lackey, he probably quieted some of the criticism with his seven innings against the Angels Wednesday night, allowing just one run. Meanwhile, Bay's struggles haven't yet abated.  Should either fan base be worried? Did the Red Sox waste $82.5MM on Lackey, and the Mets blow $66MM on Bay?  There's certainly not enough evidence to think so, and the guess here is that in the short-term, neither team will be sorry.

Let's start with Lackey. In his first 37 innings, he's pitched to a decent 3.89 ERA, and really, that reflects one poor start. Take that start out, and he has five quality starts in five outings, with a 2.14 ERA. He's gone seven innings in each of his last three starts.  The only thing that could cause concern is that he's struck out just 21 in those 37 innings. That is a rate of just 5.1 per nine innings, well off of his pace from last season, when he fanned 7.1 per nine.  But take a look at Lackey's first six starts from 2009. He posted a 6.61 ERA, and even his strikeout rate was just 5.2 per nine. It then jumped to a robust 7.5 per nine over his final 21 starts, along with a 3.23 ERA in those contests.

So it is entirely too soon to worry about Lackey. But what about Bay?

The numbers have been pretty ugly so far. Bay is hitting just .238/.345/.376 in his first 119 plate appearances as a Met. And it isn't like he's been particularly hit-unlucky, with a .338 batting average on balls in play in 2010, above his career BABIP of .327.  He's walking and striking out about as much as he did in 2009, and is actually hitting more line drives this year than last year.  So is it simply that Bay lost all of his power? Unlikely. It simply appears this streaky hitter is in a slump.

It went less noticed last year because of his strong start, but Bay had a remarkably similar period in his 2009 season. From June 3 to July 31, 2009, Bay hit .214/.349/.341, with just four home runs in 212 plate appearances over that time.  However, he balanced that out with 222 plate appearances from the start of the season to June 2 hitting .286/.410/.632, and finished the season from August 1 on with 204 plate appearances of .301/.392/.631 hitting.

Most likely, Mets fans will feel awfully silly about Bay fretting once he goes on this type of extended tear. And fortunately for the Mets, the concerns about his defense have largely proven to be unfounded so far, with Bay hovering right around average in left field.

In short, there are things for both the Red Sox and Mets to worry about. But John Lackey and Jason Bay aren't it.

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