Eno Sarris has a very interesting read at FanGraphs about tonight’s starter for the Cubs.
We recently got into Jon Lester’s suddenly extreme splits, with righties taking significant liberties this season, particularly with the long ball, and Sarris offers a possible explanation.
Well, it’s actually a variety of explanations. We’ve talked about how Lester’s velocity is down across the board in this, his age 33 season, and there has been an uptick in erratic command. But Sarris adds that Lester’s spin rates are down, and he’s not getting as much movement on his pitches.
Moreover, Sarris points specifically to a missing pitch: the four-seam fastball up and in to righties, which was extremely useful for him last year, and has completely vanished in the second half this season. Our assumption has been that Lester’s command troubles (caused by reasons unknown) were the culprit for his inability to bear in on righties, but maybe there’s more to it than that. You can and should read Sarris’s piece for more, including the possibility that Lester has simply lost trust in the ability to get that four-seam fastball in on righties (it is down about 1.5 mph this year, after all, and he’s throwing it much less frequently overall) without them punishing it too much. Perhaps Lester is trying to reinvent himself a bit, which can be hard in the middle of the season.
With this specific issue in mind, it’ll be interesting to watch tonight’s start, and how Lester attacks righties. Can he spot the fastball on the inner third? Can he elevate it to get the hands under his pitches? Or will he get crushed in there? Will he even try?
Thanks to Sarris for teeing up this particular issue. I’m intrigued (and concerned, but, well, we were already concerned).