Wednesday, May 27, 2009
SO WHAT'S WRONG WITH JON LESTER?
Single, flyout, infield single, single, groundout, walk, homerun, groundout. That was the play-by-play from last night's bottom of the 5th.
Jon Lester is 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA and 1.60 WHIP. Opponents are batting .307 off him. But what's strange is that he's striking out more batters than he did in '08, and he's also walking fewer. So why are his performances so much worse now than last season?
He's missing up in the zone. So when opponents do get hits, they're more often extra basehits, and homeruns. Homers have been killing Lester, and turning 1 run innings in to 3 run rallies. He's allowed 11 already. He only let up 14 in 2008.
I don't want to say that Lester had a "lucky" 2008 season, or that it was a fluke. "Luck" is far too broad a word to use. But I do want to use a poker term to describe his 2008 success and his 2009 struggles: variance.
A good poker player will win money over the course of thousands of hands, just like a bad one will lose money. That's why there are professional poker players. But over a short stretch of hands, good luck and bad luck become more and more apparent. You can get a hot stretch of cards and make tons of money, then a cold stretch and lose tons.
Last year, Lester's overall performance was partially due to fortunate groundballs that found their way into Red Sox gloves. For instance, opponents grounded into 27 double-plays against Lester last year. This year, he's on pace to induce 12 double-plays. The Sox also had the 7th best fielding percentage in baseball, this year they rank 24th.
The Red Sox surrender 49 unearned runs in 2008. Only 3 of those were with Lester on the mound. Think about that. Lester pitched 14.5% of the Red Sox' innings last year and only allowed 6.1% of the unearned runs. Part of that is due to being a good pitcher, but part of it was good fortune.
He's not getting that good fortune anymore. It's actually the opposite. Lester is NOT a 6.07 ERA pitcher. He'll get more groundouts, and fewer bad breaks. However, he is also NOT a 3.21 ERA pitcher. At least not in the long term. Lester is a 3.75 to 4.25 ERA guy. That's not bad, but it's all too clear to me now that he's not the 2nd Ace we thought he'd be.
Of course, he's only 25, so there's plenty of potential to improve. I'm just saying that right now, he's not an Ace. In fact, not even close.
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid