Before last night’s finale in Tampa Bay, I took an in-depth look at Jon Lester’s unusually large lefty/righty splits this season.
Unfortunately, the right-handed damage continued against the Rays (righties went 5-12, with 2BBs, a HBP, and a solo home run in 4.1 IP for Lester).
Which means, despite limiting the lefties to just three singles and a walk, Lester’s overall line looked quite bad once again: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, HBP, 0 Ks. Oof.
We’re not going to the dive into the stats too deeply today, having just done that yesterday, but Lester and his manager, Joe Maddon, did address his recent struggles (particularly what went wrong last night) in a variety of comments at ESPN Chicago, MLB.com, the Athletic, and CSN Chicago, among other places, so let’s see they think is up.
In short: no command.
“Today was lack of command all the way around,” Lester said to reporters after the game. “Almost had too much movement on my sinker early on. Didn’t have command for it. Just have to figure out a way.”
Lester’s command issues weren’t isolated to last night, of course – his 8.1 BB% this year is the highest mark he’s posted since 2011 (and he’s been even worse in September (12.2 BB%)) – but it certainly wasn’t his best night either: Lester walked three (and hit one) of the 23 Rays he faced, after walking four batters in each of his last two starts. And, of course, command troubles lead to more problems than just walks.
But was one pitch betraying him more than others? Check out a few of his ball rates on his three fastball types from last night, compared to his career averages in parenthesis:
Cutter: 34.8% (31.8%)
Four-seamer: 40.9% (35.2%)
Sinker: 61.1% (39.4%)
Yes, Lester was wild across the board, but it appears his sinker (thrown 18 times) was the most wild. And on top of that, as we discovered yesterday, he’s throwing each of these pitches more slowly than usual.
Of course, Maddon is worried much more about the former (command), than the latter (velocity), and I’m partial to agree.”I’m OK with lesser [velocity] numbers,” Maddon said after the game. “It’s about the command because he is so good at throwing a strike when he wants to.” Maddon went on to add that it was really an unfamiliar night all around for Lester – stuff wise and command-wise – and he’s just not where he needs to be right now.
But if you’re looking for a bright-side, I have one (sorta): Lester is healthy.
“Physically, it’s September,” Lester said. “You’re going to have ups and downs. [But] I feel fine. There are no lingering effects from anything. There’s nothing physically wrong.” While that is good to hear, it’s obviously less encouraging at the end of the season (with the playoffs in sight) than it would be in April.
In April, at least, Lester would have plenty of time to rediscover whatever it is he lost. But at the end of September, well, he may get just one or two more starts to figure things out.
And hopefully he does soon, because I don’t think anyone, including Lester, wants the second half guy (5.11 ERA, 4.52 FIP) starting any meaningful October contests.