The Barber of Wrigleyville: John Lackey’s Not Here for a Haircut

Though you routinely see him shouting “Fun!” when he’s on the mound, John Lackey didn’t come to Chicago for a good time. And despite what the social media rumors would have you believe, he had no intention of lowering ears. Or ERAs, for that matter.

“We’re trying to win a World Series,” Lackey said of expectations for the Cubs after Wednesday’s come-from-behind win. I didn’t come here for a haircut. We’re trying to get it on. I came here for jewelry.”

Okay, so the ERA jab was a bit unnecessary since Lackey has been a pretty solid mid-rotation presence for the Cubs this season. It’s just that the dude makes it so easy. He doesn’t need to embrace the target, he is the target. Between the murderous glares and the petulant stomps from the mound, Lackey looks the part of an urban legend whose name you don’t want to say three times. Even Len Kasper is scared of the guy.

Opponents, on the other hand, don’t always seem all that scared of Lackey this season. He’s been striking out more hitters than ever, but he also has a tendency to hiccup from time to time. On Wednesday, he hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch, then allowed a home run to Jeff Mathis before getting tagged for a single by Adeiny Hechavarria. All of that was washed away when the Cubs walked things off in the 9th, but it looked for a moment like the wheels were falling off.

That’s been kind of the story of the season for the 37-year-old Texan. His fastball, curveball, and change have been pretty unassuming and they lull hitters into a false sense of confidence. The fastball is his bread and butter, setting up everything else. But when he gets into a two-strike count, here comes the slide-piece. Hitters really stand no chance, even though they should know what he’s throwing. It’s like a Friday the 13th movie come to life. 

Coming into Wednesday’s game, Lackey’s best pitch had saved 18.5 runs and ranked behind only Clayton Kershaw’s slider (21.6). But if we weight efficacy by usage, Lackey’s 3.98 runs saved per 100 pitches ranks higher than anyone (Trevor Bauer is actually at 13.61 but he really never throws the slider) in baseball. While Lackey only throws the slider 22.3% of the time, it’s when and how he employs it that has those numbers looking so robust. 

They say the best way to get rid of hiccups is a good scare, and the slider has proven to be a very effective remedy. Consider that six of his eight strikeouts on Wednesday came against that particularly nasty offering. All of them were swinging and three of them ended innings. Maybe that’s why MLB’s Gameday app calls the pitch a cutter.

Lackey’s perfectly happy to leave the scissors to his crosstown colleague, though, as he’s just trying to get it on. I’m not exactly sure what that means, nor am I entirely certain what the deal is with the haircut talk. What I do know is that Lackey has been a consistent member of the rotation and his experience should continue to play well as the season spins toward October.

And if he can accomplish the goals he mentioned above, Lackey can keep making all the strange analogies he wants.

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