Before yesterday’s game against the Cardinals, I pointed out that Jon Lester had alternated good and bad starts to begin the year, wondering if his fourth start would follow the same trend:
Start #1: 3.1 IP, 7H, 3ER, 3BB, 2Ks (28 Game Score)
Start #2: 6.0 IP, 3H, 0ER, 1BB, 6Ks (72 GS)
Start #3: 5.0 IP, 7H, 4 ER, 3BB, 3Ks (33 GS)
And right on cue, Lester went another 6.0 full innings against the Cardinals, allowing 0 earned runs on just 2 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts.
His 72 Game Score matched his start in Milwaukee, and was higher than all but six of his starts last season. Given that he was at just 96 pitches when he was removed from the game, Lester probably could’ve kept going, too, but with an 8-1 lead and an extremely well-rested bullpen, there was no reason to push it.
Here’s how he looked in his dominant performance yesterday afternoon:
As I mentioned, Lester threw 96 pitches yesterday, and of the 92 pitches that Pitch f/x picked up (via Brooks Baseball), 62 fell in for strikes. Of those 62 strikes, a solid 11 came on swings and misses. Indeed, with four whiffs apiece, his cutter and curveball did most of the work yesterday.
As for velocity, Lester sat at around 90.5 MPH on his four-seamer and 90.8 MPH with his sinker, but reached up over 92 MPH on occasion. Although the velocity is still down compared to the rest of his career, those marks aren’t too far off from what he was posting in March and April last year (I mean, listen, the guy is 34 … the velocity won’t be there forever).
But it wasn’t all good news yesterday. You obviously can’t rely on one-game samples (and that cuts both ways), but Lester got just a 15.4% ground ball rate yesterday, as the Cardinals put plenty in the air (46.2%) and on a line (38.5%). Moreover, he netted 0% soft contact and allowed a whopping 46.2% hard contact throughout the course of the game.
The Cubs had 13 balls hit at over 95 mph exit velocity yesterday, which was also 13 of the top 16 for the game. They were ripping the ball. pic.twitter.com/YoJMjg8uir
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 20, 2018
As Brett pointed out this morning, the three Cardinals balls that show up on the list above were all barreled (i.e., optimum exit velocity and launch angle to do maximum damage), but all turned into outs. That’s some solid luck for the southpaw right there.
But I won’t take anything away from him. When you allow just two hits and a walk alongside seven strikeouts and use fewer than 100 pitches in six full innings, you’ve probably had a good day, and that’s just what Lester needed. Now let’s see if he can stop the yo-yoing and have consecutive solid starts for the first time this year. Some better, more consistent weather should help the schedule.
His next start should come against the Indians on the road. That’ll be fun.