Jon Lester's Velocity Was Down a Bit More Yesterday, But Maybe That's to Be Expected

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Jon Lester’s Velocity Was Down a Bit More Yesterday, But Maybe That’s to Be Expected

Chicago Cubs

When Jon Lester walked off the mound with two outs in the sixth inning yesterday, I was happy with his outing (5.2 IP, 5H, 0ER, 3BB, 5Ks), but unable to fully smile, because it sure seemed like his velocity was way out of whack.

It’s always difficult to tell live/while you’re watching – a handful of missed pitches here or there can totally skew what you think you’re seeing – but it sure felt like a whole lot of four-seamers were registering under 90 MPH, while a whole lot of cutters were registering under 87 MPH … and it turns out, that concern was warranted.

Data via Brooks Baseball:

Per Lester’s player card, his four-seamer averaged a release speed of just 90.5 MPH last night, while his cutter came in at 86.96 MPH. Both represent Lester’s lowest velocity recordings of the season, and it looks even worse when you look back a few years:

Basically, Lester’s velocity last night was lower than his 2018 season average, which was, itself, already down from 2017, which was also down from 2016. Point being, yes, he’s getting older (34) and losing velocity is a big part of that, but last night stood out even from the expected decline (and he was on regular rest with beautiful weather at home).

On the more optimistic front, I count five games last season where Lester’s four-seamer and cutter (not always in the same start) dipped down (close) to the levels he was posting last night, so maybe it just happens from time to time. We also know that he’s got bone chip in his pitching elbow that may bear some relationship to a periodic dead arm situation (remember Spring Training 2015? and late last year?). After his Opening Day start, Lester declined to say he was in a dead arm period, for what that’s worth.

Still, maybe this really is a big nothing burger – I am relieved to see he’s had dips like this in the past – but I just wanted to bring it up because it stood out.

Now that the scary part of the post is over … how about a little love for a solid, no-earned-run performance against the Rockies to help keep the Cubs’ winning streak alive?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Lester might not have been at his best last night, but even with the depressed velocity he managed to grab nine whiffs and keep his team in the game. Of course, there were some issues, too (only 5 strikeouts, 31.3% line drive rate, 38.9% hard-hit rate), but even that was met with some positives (25% fly ball rate, 22.2% soft-hit rate) and some obvious flukiness (14.3% infield hit rate). In the end maybe this start wasn’t stellar or terrible, and maybe that perfectly okay.

As Jon Lester continues making his way through his age 34-season, we’ll probably have to prepare ourselves for more middle of the road-success starts, somewhat related to his declining velocity. But, again, we (and the Cubs!) were prepared for just this – the whole point of targeting Lester back in 2015 was that he never relied solely on elite velocity, so he’s a candidate to age gracefully … as he has so far.

Sure, he still has the ability to dominate on any given night, but the Cubs don’t need him to be that guy all the time given the strength in the rotation. So for now, we’ll just keep an eye on that velocity in his next few starts to see if it bounces back up to his new normal levels (i.e. 2017-2018 averages), because if he’s around that point, he should be just fine.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami