Jon Lester Continues to Succeed in New Ways, and to Make Doubters Look Stupid

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Jon Lester Continues to Succeed in New Ways, and to Make Doubters Look Stupid

Chicago Cubs

I have been chewing on crow for the past month thanks to Jon Lester’s performance in the face of analytical evaluations that suggested he was in for some serious performance regression if something didn’t change. But it tastes good.

If you remember back to the end of April, I was worried about the Cubs Opening Day starter, as he dealt with another drop in velocity, an increase in fly balls, not enough soft contact, too many walks, not enough strikeouts, etc., etc. Put simply, just about every peripheral you could find indicated that his 2.66 ERA was not particularly well-earned or likely to continue.

Lester’s ERA now stands at 2.44.

*crunch* *chew* *crow is gross but this is fine* *crunch*

But here’s the thing: those peripherals were all troubling. I wasn’t wrong; the stats weren’t incorrectly interpreted. Lester has simply been pitching better, which is great news. So now that his peripherals are more closely aligned with his results, we can look back on his early-season luck with a wry smile and look optimistically ahead to the rest of what is shaping up to be a very good season.

Let’s start with last night:

For the seventh time (of 12 starts) this season, Jon Lester lasted at least 6.0 innings, and for the fourth time he allowed exactly no earned runs: 7.0 IP, 2H, 3BB, 7Ks. In addition to the strikeouts, Lester induced a healthy dose of ground balls, infield pop-ups, and soft contact (25.0%) from the Mets to turn in his best start of the year by Game Score (77) – a number he beat just once all of last season.

As for the velocity: throwing 107 pitches overall, Lester averaged 91.9 MPH on his four-seamer (topping out at 94 MPH), which is right in the range of happiness for him at this point in his career (and higher than he averaged all of last season). He may not be blowing it past anyone in the current high-speed version of MLB, but that extra tick or two helps set up his other pitches, like his changeup, which he threw 18 times for 3 whiffs, and his cutter, which he threw 17 times for 4 whiffs.

In total, Lester got 11 swings and misses last night, bringing his whiff rate to 10.8% over the past four games, versus 9.7% for his first eight starts. But that’s not the only thing that’s improved during that stretch:

Over his past four games, Lester has improved his whiff rate, strikeout rate, walk rate, batting average against, line drive rate *inhales for more breath* infield fly ball rate, soft contact, and hard contact.

He’s allowing a few more fly balls and a few less grounders during that stretch, but given the entire picture – particularly the drop in line drives and massive increase in infield fly balls – that’s easily a trade you’ll accept.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

For the season, Lester has now posted a 2.44 ERA, which is the 12th lowest mark in all of baseball. His 4.14 FIP is still a lot higher, but it’s been dropping by the start – especially thanks to that ballooning strikeout rate and falling walk rate.

Lester has certainly been fortunate in more ways than one this season (including his BABIP (.254) and LOB rate (84.2%)), but make no mistake, Lester has been much better lately and has begun to earn the fantastic results he’s gotten all year. And if that means I’ll have a seemingly freezing cold take from the end of April to deal with, so be it.

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Author: Michael Cerami

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