July 24, 2012
On May 14, Jon Lester threw a complete came against the Seattle Mariners, scattering eight hits and allowing just one run on 119 pitches in a 6-1 victory for Boston. The win put Lester’s record at just 2-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.71 as Boston limped through the early part of the season. Since then, Lester’s story has been uglier than the Boston collapse of 2011; his numbers look nothing like the extremely consistent pitcher that fantasy owners came to know and love from 2008 to 2011.
Lester has made 12 starts since that victory over the Mariners and has gone 3-4 with a 6.75 ERA and a 4.60 FIP. In the 69 1/3 innings he has thrown, he has allowed 91 hits, 52 earned runs, 13 home runs, 20 walks, and has struck out 66. In ratio format, that computes to 11.7 hits per nine innings, 1.7 home runs per nine, and a .376 batting average on balls in play. The large gap between his ERA and FIP at least hints that he is doing something good, and he is. His strikeout-to-walk ratio during this time has been a very strong 3.3 on the heels of an 8.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
Lester’s first inning yesterday sums up the whole situation rather well. The lead-off home run hit by Brett Lawrie highlighted Lester’s charitable ways. He then walked Yunel Escobar, allowed Colby Rasmus to reach third on a bunt single, and then surrendered a ground-rule double to Edwin Encarnacion. An RBI groundout scored Rasmus, and a proceeding double, a dropped strike three, and a sacrifice bunt plated the fourth and fifth runs of the inning. Anything and everything happened in that inning to Lester, as it has throughout this ugly run of 12 starts.
How can he be doing so poorly with such good peripherals? After all, his two most frequent outcomes during this bad run are strikeouts and groundouts:
Data via TexasLeaguers.com
He has had some good starts during this stretch, including one on July 3 in which he allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings, but that is the only time he has allowed fewer than three runs, and he has given up at least four earned runs in seven of the 12 starts.
Normally, a .376 BABIP would lead you to believe that Lester is giving up a lot of line drives, but that is not the case. During this stretch, 43 percent of his batted balls have been fly balls, 39 percent groundballs, and just 18 percent have been line drives. Let’s compare the line drive rates of balls in play for each pitch type from last season to each month of the 2012 season: