May 14, 2012 Leave a comment
The Red Sox organization has been in a free fall since last September 1st. Mirroring the Red Sox’ fall from grace has been the decline of the guy that used to be looked at as our young ace pitcher, Jon Lester. Lester is only 28 years old this year but if he can not rebound from his sub-par pitching since last September than sadly we may have already seen the best days of Jon Lester as a pitcher.
Lester’s woes have flown under the radar with Josh Beckett being public enemy #1 for what he’s done off the field, Clay Buchholz pitching as bad as any starter in the league at the outset of the season, and John Lackey in exile (even though he’s in the dugout at every home game) after Tommy John surgery. Lester also got points from Red Sox Nation when he stepped up and accepted responsibility for what happened last season in the clubhouse and expressed remorse for what became of the Red Sox season and manager Terry Francona. Lester, however, has been as inconsistent as any player on the Red Sox since last September 1st when the wheels began to come off of the wagon.
Consider that Lester made 25 starts between opening day and August 27th. Of those 25 starts 19 of them were quality starts (pitching at least 6 innings while giving up only 4 runs or less). A quality start is a benchmark for consistency for a major league pitcher and a 76% Quality Start rate, which Lester had going into September last year, is an excellent number. Lester also struck out at least 5 batters in 20 of his 25 starts including 11 in a game against the Angels on May 3rd of last year. He had a 3.09 ERA heading into September last season and had walked 3.3 guys per 9 innings. His shortest outing of the season was a 4 inning outing against Toronto on July 5th due to an injury that caused him to leave early in his next start as well and eventually land on the disabled list. There were only three other occasions where Lester could not get into the 7th inning meaning he reached the 7th in 80% of his starts through August. Then came September 1st.
Lester made 6 starts in September. He had 3 quality starts, a 50% QS rate. He went 5 innings, 4 innings, and 2 1/3 respectively in his other 3 outings. His ERA in the month of September was 5.48, he walked 4.6 guys per 9 innings, and he sported a 1-3 record. Things have not gotten better for Lester so far this season. In 7 outings to start the year he has 4 quality starts. He’s got a 4.29 ERA and he’s had more than 5 strikeouts in only 2 of his 7 starts. He had given up 18 walks so far on the season. He’s got a 1-3 record thus far.
When you put together Lester’s numbers from September 1 of last year the results are disappointing. His 7 quality starts in 13 outings leaves him with an average 54% QS%. He has a 4.76 ERA and a 4.2 BB/9 rate. His record is 2-6. Compare that with his 3.09 ERA and 3.3 BB/9 rate through August of last year and you find a serious downgrade in production. Compared even further to his career stats going into last season when he had a 3.55 career ERA, 3.4 BB/9 rate and averaged about 16 wins per season you would assume that Lester is a much more effective pitcher than he’s been showing.
So the million dollar question is – what is the problem? It doesn’t seem to be health related. I do see Lester get flustered early in games over close calls that go the other way and he tends to lose his composure. But why now at this point in his career? Why does he seem to be regressing rather than maturing as a pitcher at age 28? I doubt anyone knows the answer and I am hoping that what seems like a statistical anomaly is exactly that, a blip on the radar for a guy that has a ton of talent and will put it all behind him. Lester hasn’t totally lost his arm, he’s just inconsistent. You’ll see flashes of the Lester we thought we’d see every night and then the guy who throws too many pitches will come back 5 days later. Lester is coming off of a string of sub-par outings and tonight would be the perfect time for him to throw another gem and give the Red Sox their 4th consecutive quality start, something they’ve only done one other time this season (series in Chicago).
Despite all the talk about beer, chicken, and golf it all comes down to starting pitching. The Red Sox are 15-19 largely because their starting pitching has been inconsistent and hasn’t gotten deep into outings. The bullpen has settled down but is still being used far too much because the starters aren’t going deep into games. Jon Lester, not Josh Beckett, should be the ace of this staff. He is 3 years younger than him and in the prime of his career. If Lester doesn’t bear down and become the pitcher that he should be it will be hard to see us anywhere near the race this September 1st. Hopefully tonight we will start to see that guy.