Lester Concerns, Contreras Exploding for His Birthday, Bullpen Dancing, and Other Bullets

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Lester Concerns, Contreras Exploding for His Birthday, Bullpen Dancing, and Other Bullets

Chicago Cubs

To all the mothers out there: thanks for making literally everything humans have done on Earth possible. You are good people.

  • Jon Lester had another solid start yesterday – not overwhelmingly good, but solid, which seems to be his specialty this year. Before I point to the scary stuff, I want to make sure that’s clear up front: Lester’s gotten good results this year. So, well done on that front. And it is certainly possible that he could – from here – continue to evolve into a different kind of effective pitcher.
  • But … Lester, 34, continues to deal with declining velocity, and, while his 2.66 ERA looks fantastic, the peripherals are all quite scary. As compared to last year (when he posted a 4.33 ERA and peripherals mostly to match), Lester has seen his strikeout rate sink significantly, his walk rate increase significantly, his groundball rate plummet, his soft contact rate plummet, and his hard contact rate take off. Batters are swinging out of the zone less often, swinging in the zone more often, Lester is in the zone less often, and Lester’s swinging strike rate is way down. Virtually everywhere you look, there are really, really bad signals.
  • So how’s he getting that elite ERA? I’m sorry to say, it looks like one of the clearer cases of pure good luck you’ll see. Lester’s .266 BABIP, 81.5% LOB rate, and 10.4% HR/FB rate all look *extremely* lucky right now, and without some changes in his underlying performance, regression is going to come and it’s going to be ugly. So, here’s hoping there are some tweaks coming. Given Lester’s track record, pitch diversity, and excellent command, I wouldn’t at all put it past him to evolve into a different kind of very good pitcher by the later months this year.
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
  • In addition to Mother’s Day, today is also Willson Contreras’s birthday. In celebration of that event, apparently, Contreras decided to GO OFF this week. It’s been quite a series already against the White Sox:

  • Contreras is now up to a .281/.352/.516 (134 wRC+) line, and the only catcher worth more WAR in baseball so far has been Francisco Cervelli. He’s got the fourth highest wRC+ on the Cubs now (Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber), which is actually impressive in a couple directions.
  • I don’t like that Brandon Morrow had to enter in a save situation in a game the Cubs led 8-1 in the 8th inning, but I did like seeing that he hit 100.8 mph on the gun at one point. That’s just fun.
  • After pushing back against an MLB threat of a fine about his prohibited black cleats (get right the eff outta here), Ben Zobrist wore those cleats when he entered the game late yesterday. Maybe he’s going to take the fine in order to prove a point. And he’s not wrong.
  • The Cubs made the bullpen-‘Superbad’ mash-up that you didn’t know you needed, but now you need nothing else:

  • There is fun to be had right now in the NL races, though I do wonder if it’s going to last through the summer:

  • I think the Braves and Phillies are very talented, but I also think they may fade a bit as youth and depth are exposed. I think the Mets may actually hang around in the East, but I believe as the Nats get healthy, they’re going to pull way ahead. I think the Cubs will also pull ahead in the Central. The West race, however, figures to stick around for a while, particularly between the Rockies and D-Backs.
  • More pitching problems for the Brewers, who just had to scratch and then DL Chase Anderson with a sickness. Anderson, the Brewers’ on-paper ace, has not been nearly as successful this year as he was in his breakout last year. His 3.97 ERA is not bad, but his peripherals are awful (a 16.3% strikeout rate, a 8.7% walk rate, and a 1.99 HR/9 among them). At age 30, it’s going to be fair to wonder whether last year was more of a blip than a breakout.
  • Some good shots:

  • Also good:

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.