Before yesterday’s game against the Giants, I had this to say in the Pre-Gamin’ post:
At some point, a Cubs starter needs to bury an opposing lineup and take some pressure off the offense. Perhaps tonight is the night.
In no way was that an analytical prediction of the brilliant start to come, mind you, but boy did Jon Lester deliver on that hope.
Through nine full innings, the Cubs’ ace absolutely dominated the Giants lineup (4H, 1ER, 0BB, 10K), earning a game score of 93 (easily the best start for the Cubs this season). And, as I’m sure you can imagine, a start like that comes with a bunch of interesting tidbits to note.
First and foremost, Lester’s complete game took just 99 pitches, which is incredible. It’s actually the first complete game under 100 pitches for the Cubs since Carlos Zambrano went nine innings against the Giants back in 2009 (needing just 98 pitches to finish the job). You can see Lester’s thoughts on the start here, in an on-field interview after the game.
Lester also became the first pitcher in MLB this season to throw a complete game without taking any batter to ball 3 (a rare feat that occurred just once in 2016, per ESPN). This was especially good to see, because although command isn’t typically an issue for Lester, he is sporting – by far – the highest walk rate of his Cubs career.
That said, of the 99 pitches Lester threw, 70 fell in for strikes (16 of which came on whiffs). Altogether, then, Lester struck out ten hitters, which is good for the 28th double-digit strikeout game of his career.
Here’s all ten in ten seconds:
Big Jon had it going on. pic.twitter.com/YNktv1rufU
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 24, 2017
That’s a thing of beauty.
After going the distance last night, Lester notched his 15th career complete game and continued his 12-game Wrigley Field winning streak – which includes his last start against the Giants at Wrigley Field for the NLDS:
Jon Lester's last two starts against the Giants (tonight and NLDS Gm 1): 17 IP, 1 ER, 9 H, 0 BB, 15 K.
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) May 24, 2017
And, according to ESPN Chicago, that was the quickest Cubs game (2 hours, 5 minutes) since May 9, 2012. But let’s go beyond the oddities and records and take a closer look at his performance.
After reflecting on the game this morning, Brett noticed something interesting about Lester’s pitch mix. Last night, Lester threw 14 changeups overall, eleven of which fell in for strikes. And five of those strikes came on whiffs, making it one of the more effective out-pitches in Lester’s arsenal.
However, that’s not a very common thing for Lester. Or, at least, it didn’t used to be. After throwing double-digit changeups just six times between both the 2015 and 2016 season, Lester has already done it six times this season (including last night).
Brett wasn’t the only one to take notice of Lester’s changeup. “He threw a lot more changeups than I’ve ever seen when facing him,” said Giants’ catcher Buster Posey via MLB.com. “He’s shown it in the past, but tonight he had good command of it. It wasn’t just a show-me pitch. He used it a lot. He used it to lefties as well.”
Perhaps Lester is near the beginning of his graceful aging process, wherein he adjusts his repertoire to better fit his physical limitations. If so, and if this is the result, Cubs fans should be happy about the 3.5 years left on his contract.
And if you’ll allow me to momentarily digress, I’d like to re-share a sentiment I tweeted about last night:
Those two have many more innings ahead of them, and I love to see them succeed together.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) May 24, 2017
Considering that 1) Lester has three more seasons on his deal with the Cubs after this one, and 2) Contreras has five more years of team control, it’s nice to see them working so well together. As we all know, Lester’s had the benefit of the veteran David Ross behind the plate for many years, but is now working with a rookie catcher, Contreras, who is still developing at the position. It didn’t have to go smoothly, but so far it is.
After last night’s start (his tenth of the season), Lester now has the following statistics among qualified MLB starters (NL Rank, MLB Rank in parentheses):
- 3.19 ERA (9th, 24th)
- 3.08 FIP (4th, 9th)
- 3.33 xFIP (5th, 10th)
- 53.3 GB% (6th, 9th)
- 3.05 K/BB (15th, 33rd)
According to those numbers, Lester is quite clearly – once again – one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. And for further confirmation, I’d like to point out that his 24.9% hard-hit rate is the fifth lowest in all of baseball, while his 21.9% soft-hit rate is the 21st highest in all of baseball.
So basically, from the quality of the contact, to the type of contact, to strikeouts, walks, results, and peripherals, Jon Lester is dominating the 2017 season. It may not have been obvious right away, but he’s definitely having himself a year. Again.