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Pairing Jon Lester With the Right Catcher and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News

I am so behind this morning thanks to getting lost down a bunch of random statistical wormholes (you’ll see some of them below). It’s something of an occupational hazard when I’m trying to be efficient and productive … but wondering about this thing prompts research into that thing … and before I know it, I just spent an hour reading about all kinds of random data points, which may or may not actually interconnect in a way useful for discussion.

It’s not always that way, though. It was that kind of random, getting-lost-in-the-weeds perusing that kicking off my wondering about BABIP and xBABIP for the Cubs, and ultimately generated something really excellent that Michael, Luis, and I worked on last month.

  • This read from Sam Miller – as most of his are – is absolutely fantastic. It’s about Mets pitcher Robert Gsellman, who, it turns out, could not swing the bat last year. An injury to his non-pitching shoulder prevented it, but he still had to go to the plate 17 times and act as if. Miller goes deep on those plate appearances in his characteristically humorous and insightful way, noting how atypical those Gsellman plate appearances were – no swings, extremely high number of bunt attempts – and how long it took teams to notice that he couldn’t swing (if they noticed at all). I’m reminded of Jon Lester’s inability to throw to first base, and how seemingly long it took the public consciousness to become aware. We may deconstruct everything in baseball to the nth degree, but some things still take a long time to notice in the first place.

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  • Speaking of that … anyone else wonder what the baserunning game is going to look like for Jon Lester in 2017, what with David Ross retiring? Give yourself a moment to think about what a huge – annoyingly huge (arguably overstated-ly huge) – story this all was in 2015. And then think about how much you heard about it in 2016. You … basically didn’t hear about it in 2016. And there’s good reason for that: in 2015, Lester was brutally bad at controlling the running game (both by the advanced metrics, and the raw stolen base numbers (his 44 allowed were the most in the game by 7, and the typical starter allowed about 10); there were a whopping 55 attempts against him that year). But in 2016, Lester improved by the advanced metrics and by the raw stolen base count (down to 28 success, and just 41 attempts). How much of that was because Lester showed late in 2015 that he could – just barely – throw over to first base? And how much of that was because he and Ross got even more in sync, specifically with respect to keeping runners honest at first?
  • For what it’s worth – though you already know, if you watched the Cubs last year – Miguel Montero was one of the worst catchers at preventing stolen bases in 2016. The running game has an overstated impact overall, because it is so visible, but I do wonder if it is even going to be possible to pair Lester with Montero in 2017. All of the gains in 2016 would probably evaporate – and then some.
  • (Meanwhile, Willson Contreras clearly demonstrated his ability to control the running game – he was a top 20 catcher in that respect last year.)

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  • And if you’ve got the Cubs’ World Series win on the mind:


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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor of Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.