The 100 Greatest Angels: #30 John Lackey

#30 - John Lackey, RH SP

Career Stats

Opening Day 2002, John Lackey on the mound. Of course, it was for the Salt Lake Stingers (now the Bees) - Read about it here. If that is not an advertisement for minor league baseball what is: Starting the game tonight is a pitcher who will be winning the first-ever World Series for the big league club later this year.

Someone could write an epic on John's Game 7 World Series Victory, but let's not overlook his recent 2005 campaign:
8.57 K/9, 2nd in the A.L. (7.04 Career mark is 5th All-Time for an Angel pitcher)
199 Ks, 3rd in the A.L.
.737 W/L %, 3rd in the A.L./3rd all-time Angels single season
3.44 ERA, 6th in the A.L.
122 ERA+, 10th in the A.L.

Meanwhile, John's career K/BB ratio of 2.45 is 7th best all-time for an Angel pitcher.

So John is bringing it, he just turned 28 and he is #30 all-time.

On the balloting for All-Time Angels, John's most ardent supporters were Blogger Shredder and yours truly, Rev. Halofan, both of us selecting John as #20 All-Time Angel. I guess great minds think alike.

Rob McMillin of the 6-4-2 Southern California Baseball Blog has John's complete bio (which elicited an observation - that forfeiting a draft pick to Boston for signing Mo Vaughn was the precursor to selecting Lackey in the 2nd round as the team's first pick in the 1999 amateur draft - Thanks Mo!) ... Take it away, Rob...

The first and only pitcher to collect the win on a deciding World Series game in Angels history, John Lackey was a three-sport star (football, basketball, and baseball) at Abilene (Texas) High School in 1997. He then moved to the University of Texas at Arlington, where he played mainly first base and an occaisional role in relief pitching. That summer, he learned more pitching technique in the Kansas Jayhawk Summer League, which in turn got him onto the Grayson County College (Denison, TX) team that went 50-13 and won the 1999 Junior College World Series; Lackey himself posted a 10-3 record with a 4.23 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 100 innings. It was enough for the Angels to tab him as a second-round pick in the 1999 draft (the first for the Angels, who surrendered theirs to the Red Sox), a year which saw the team choose hard throwers on its first seven picks.

Lackey rocketed through the Angels' minors, graduating through three levels in his first year. His rapid progress stalled in 2001, when he earned a 6.71 ERA and a 3-4 record in the thin air of the PCL, but he adjusted the next year and accumulated an impressive-for-any-league 2.57 ERA and 8-2 record over a little less than half a season, which is to say, he was a model student of pitching. It earned him a callup in mid-2002, where he replaced Scott Schoeneweis in the rotation and Al Levine in the roster. His first game, against the Rangers, went inauspiciously but not horribly, losing 3-2 in his home state at Arlington. "It was exciting because it was here in Texas," Lackey said. "I wasn't that nervous. I felt comfortable but they're a great hitting team. I thought I pitched well."

He did, and for his next trick, he held down the Dodgers to one run over six innings. An effective fourth/fifth starter down the stretch, he finished with a 3.66 ERA and a solid 9-4 record. Passed over in the rotation for the ALDS, he delievered three key innings in Game 3 when he relieved starter Ramon Ortiz, who surrendered six runs in only 2.2 innings. The experience gave manager Mike Scioscia the trust needed -- despite a humbling regular season finish of 4.75 ERA in September -- to give him the ball in Game 4, when he shut down the Twins for seven straight innings with seven strikeouts, matching Twins' staff ace Brad Radke almost pitch-for-pitch over six in what would eventually become a 7-1 blowout.

While John Lackey gets credit for collecting the win in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, he also deserves credit for pitching in three of those games -- as Appier's relief in the wild Game 2, and as the starter in Game 4 (he earned a no decision after leaving the game tied). Lackey's Game 7 resume was no less impressive: he pitched to Barry Bonds and walked away with a win for it, and held down the Giants' top three hitters -- Kenny Lofton, Rich Aurilia, and Jeff Kent -- to 0-7 on the game, giving Bonds no baserunners to work with.

After victory laps around both the park and his hometown of Abilene, where they held John Lackey Day, he returned to the Angels in 2003 as opening day starter. That game, perversely also against the Rangers, resulted in a 6-3 loss, marking the start of an uninspiring 10-16, 4.63 ERA season. Despite staying healthy, his 2004 ended with similar marks (14-13, 4.67 ERA), though more wins than the year before, principally due to improved run support. Lackey's 2005, however, represented a significant turnaround, the return of the man who held down the Giants on that 2002 mound one last time.

Second on the team in Baseball Prospectus' VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) measure and one of the top eight pitchers in the American League by that metric, Lackey could become the most significant home-grown starting pitcher since Chuck Finley. Currently signed to a one-year deal, there's speculation the Angels will long-term him in midseason.

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