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Who's the John Lackey of 2015?

Is Shaun Marcum future John Lackey, or just Shaun Marcum?
Is Shaun Marcum future John Lackey, or just Shaun Marcum?
Mike Stobe

There are a lot of things I'll never shut up about. I've kept a running list before, but here are the main ones: Randy Johnson is a dirty name, Bartolo Colon is 40 and better than ever, Mark Lemke was never hit by a pitch in his career, and Josh Hamilton's career arc is still amazing and you should be ashamed of yourself if you disagree.

We're getting pretty close to a new one, and that's this: We've all sorta accepted that John Lackey is good again. He signed a big deal before the 2010 season, and he was disappointing. He came back in 2011 and was the worst pitcher in baseball. Turned out he was broken, and he missed 2012. That means we're three seasons removed from anything resembling the one-time All Star who got a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Pitchers like Lackey slowly fade away after they get hurt in their 30s. Remember Larry Gura? Exactly.

But Lackey's good again, even though we didn't expect to see him again. On Tuesday, he dominated a tough Tigers lineup for more than six innings, helping the Red Sox to a 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the ALCS.

It's expected. Oh, yeah, John Lackey, he had a pretty good year, you might say. No one questions it. He made the transformation from chicken-'n'-beer punchline to reliable starter. When did that happen? May? June? It's still weird.

And in 2015 or 2016, we'll be saying the same thing about a pitcher who is currently a lost cause. Our task today is to find out who that pitcher will be.

(We will not. But it'll be fun to try!)


Player: Johan Santana

Why the comparison works: Santana's a big-time pitcher whose career looks to be over after an injury, which is what Lackey was after 2011.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Santana was much, much better in his prime. More importantly, Lackey had Tommy John surgery. Santana has shoulder problems. That's the difference between replacing a clutch and rebuilding a transmission using nothing but Triscuits and chewing gum. If Santana shows up again, it'll be a bigger miracle.


Player: Chris Carpenter

Why the comparison works: Because Carpenter's injury has already shifted from "well, he's done" to "maaaaaybe he can come back."

Why the comparison doesn't work: Again, Carpenter was a Cy Young winner. Lackey was not. And considering that Carpenter is one of the few pitchers in history to rebound from both elbow and shoulder problems. We've seen his Lazarus act before.


Player: Barry Zito

Why the comparison works: Because Zito is a pitcher you're not thinking about right now. You're not including him in your pre-Winter Meeting rosterbation sessions right now. He's not good enough. He's not the backup to the backup to the backup of your contingency plan.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Zito isn't injured. When Lackey's surgery was announced, there was a collective ohhhhhhhhhhhh, as if that diagnosis would explain everything. That probably isn't coming with Zito.


Player: Brandon Webb

Why the comparison works: Because I want to watch Webb pitch again.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Because he retired already, dang it. Unhittable sinkers are all we have left, with Mariano Rivera gone.


Player: Scott Kazmir

Why the comparison works: Can you even imagine if he made a comeback?

Why the comparison doesn't work: Hahaha, seriously, though. That guy couldn't even hack it with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Poor guy. There's no way he'll be effective again.


Player: Carlos Zambrano

Why the comparison works: Ooooh. That's a good mix of name brand and hopeless cause. Don't forget, it was just last year that he was the Lackey of 2012. For a month-and-a-half.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Like Zito, nothing's wrong with Zambrano. They're not going to rebuild him. They do not have the technology. But as a player-to-player comparison, Zambrano


Player: Shaun Marcum

Why the comparison works: Marcum used to be quite excellent, you know. When the Brewers traded Brett Lawrie for him, it was a widely lauded move for a win-now team. The changeup was filthy. And like Lackey, he made a quick, quick transition to being an afterthought you didn't want within a hectare of your favorite team.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Marcum's injuries are a little more nebulous than Lackey's. He's dealing with pinched nerves and thoracic outlet syndrome. He's a good bargain bet for a team looking for a rebound, but his tea leaves are even harder to sift through than Lackey's were.


Player: Josh Johnson

Why the comparison works: Johnson wasn't really that good. When he was on, sure. He led the league in ERA in 2009 -- the only year he threw more than 200 innings. Don't get me wrong, he was one of the better starting pitchers in baseball when he was right, but he wasn't a sure-shot ace for more than a few months, just like Lackey.

Why the comparison doesn't work: Lackey was a workhorse before he fell apart. Johnson was held together by the glue made from a melted-down workhorse, and then he fell apart. He just had surgery for bone spurs, so maybe he'll be back and effective. Odds are against it.

Note: This isn't the Freddy Garcia player. A bunch of us got together and decided that was going to be Odalis Perez. The answer will be Odalis Perez for that one.

But the John Lackey of 2015 or so is going to be Carlos Zambrano. He's going to be more of a Colon/Lackey hybrid, actually. He'll be pitching in the 2015 playoffs, and you won't even think it's weird. That's how quickly baseball can execute its subterfuge and wipe your brain clean. You still aren't thinking about how weird it is that Lackey's dependable again. This sport, man. It'll rearrange your neurons.

For more on John Lackey and his equine visage, please visit Over the Monster

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