Jon Lester, who will start in a minor league game today, has trouble throwing to the bases.
He knows it, other teams know it, and now you know it (if you didn’t already (but you did)).
Of course, you might also know that this was hardly a surprise to anyone, let alone the Cubs or any other teams in the league. Lester has apparently been dealing with his own version of “the yips” all the way back to his high school days.
He’s certainly found a way to be effective, but Lester did struggled mightily with throws and baserunners in 2015, as more and more runners tested his constitution. Since his rookie season (2006), Lester has had 161 batters steal a base while he was pitching – 44 of those came in 2015. He’s a good enough pitcher to prevent most of the runners from scoring, thereafter, but it is at least a marginal problem, and it might never go away.
According to reports at Cubs.com and the Chicago Tribune, Joe Maddon and the Cubs are working with Lester to vary his delivery time, to throw off runners at first base. With an inconsistent delivery time, runners will not be able to get the jumps they’ve gotten in the past, and Lester will be able to keep more guys on first. Moreover, he is consistently working on his fielding and wants to get better every day. The mere fact that he acknowledges the existence of a problem, Maddon contends, is a step in the right direction.
But, perhaps most importantly, Lester has looked good so far this Spring (regardless of how the box scores read). According to Maddon, Lester’s velocity is excellent, his cutter is working and his delivery has been good, as well: “I cannot be more excited about him right now, moving forward.” I’ll remind you, again, that box scores, pitching lines, slash lines, etc… for established players in the Spring are essentially meaningless. The only important thing is how Lester looks (velocity, timing, stuff), and feels (so far, so good).
You’ve been told not to worry about his issues throwing to the bases before, but I’m going to sit here and tell you again: it’s a legitimate issue, but it’s not going to derail his value. Despite having 44 runners steal bases in 2015, Lester had one of the best Cubs starting pitching seasons in recent memory (only overshadowed by that freak Jake Arrieta). Even with all of those stolen bases, he ended the season with a 3.34 ERA. He had a sub-3.00 FIP (2.92). He was a ground ball machine (48.9%), struck out plenty of batters (25.0%) and rarely walked guys (5.7%).
And even though he’s getting older every year (he’ll only be 32 in 2016), he’s the type of pitcher the Cubs expect to age well. If he can avoid and setbacks throughout the spring, he looks primed for another big season.