Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have each faced the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles in both of their last two starts.
In each pitcher’s first matchup, both threw complete games, while allowing just one earned run and no walks. Then, on Thursday, Hendricks followed up his complete game with an 8.0-inning, 2-earned run, 1-walk gem of his own, and we gave him the love he deserved.
Yesterday, Jon Lester followed up his complete game with an 8.0-inning effort of his own. Except unlike Hendricks, Lester allowed no earned runs, walked not a single batter, and struck out nine Phillies in the process. In the interest of fairness, then, Lester deserves some written love, and I’m going to provide that and discuss a few of the comments he and his manager made after the game, relayed by Carrie Muskat at Cubs.com and Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.
Over his last two starts, Lester has worked 17.0 innings, while allowing just 1 earned run (0.53 ERA), 8 hits (.140 AVG), no walks (0.0% BB-rate) and 19 strike outs (33.3% K-rate). Let’s relive his brilliant start:
According to Brooks Baseball, Lester operated between 92.4 MPH – 93.1 MPH, with his fastball, throwing 31 of 50 for strikes. Although, of those 31 strikes, only 1 came via a swing and miss. That means that he must have been completely freezing batters with his well-located fastball after setting them up with his other pitches. Of the 14 whiffs he was able to get yesterday (that’s very good), three came from his changeup, and five came from each of his curveball and cutter. With such a varied repertoire, it’s easy to see why this front office was willing to target Lester even after he was 30 years old.
But it’s not just the pitches that are working for him. According to Lester, he’s feeling more confident and more comfortable in Chicago than ever before and that’s showing up in his results. “I feel more comfortable this year,” Lester said, per Cubs.com. “As the year went on [last season], you could really see [manager] Joe [Maddon] open up and become more Joe. We had a little bit more fun once we started winning. That just carried over to this year .… Everybody feels more relaxed this year.”
Between his last two starts, Lester walked zero batters, pushing his season walk rate down to 5.6% on the season, which is right where it was at in his great seasons last year (5.7%) and in 2014 (5.4%). Among qualified starting pitchers, that’s tied for 23th in baseball.
But did he want to finish the start, to complete back-t0-back games? After throwing just 93 pitches after finishing the 8th, he was ready to go back out there, but he wasn’t about to argue with his manager, telling ESPN, “I’ve tried before with him, but I think I’ve won maybe once in two years. When he shakes my hand, I know it’s pretty much done, so there’s no point in arguing. Like I’ve always said, the manager makes those decisions. The players don’t.”
Speaking of his manager, Joe Maddon had some thoughts on the matter of pulling Lester at 93 pitches after 8.0 brilliant innings (Cubs.com, ESPN): “There’s two things you’re looking at there. Is the shutout that important? That would be a personal goal as opposed to a team goal. The team goal for me was to not have Jon throw many more pitches after 113 his last time out – and have him spiffy the next time he goes out.”
This early in the season, with how well Lester has been pitching, you don’t mind Maddon saving some bullets for a stretch and/or postseason run. Combine that with the six-run lead at the time (which quickly shrank), it makes plenty of sense to save Lester.
And let’s be clear: Lester has been doing well. Here are some of his statistics with the relative league rankings among qualified starting pitchers in parenthesis.
- ERA: 2.06 (5th)
- FIP: 2.99 (13th)
- xFIP: 3.24 (8th)
- K/BB: 4.59 (8th)
- fWAR: 2.1 (11th)
In most ways that matter, Lester has been one of the best pitchers on one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. It’s great to see him continue the success he found last year and the Cubs are lucky to have him. Lester may not ever find himself in the Jake Arrieta, Clayton Kershaw tier of pitchers, but he is definitely an Ace and has pitched like one for three straight seasons.