Ok, so it was less than a month ago that I was writing about being hopeful about Jon Lester. I never said I would ever make sense or be consistent. Lester might have said he would be, in some ways, but I’m just following him. Also, wasn’t it just yesterday I was here trying to make myself and maybe one or two others feel better about Hamels’s last three starts? This one is a little more dispiriting, as Lester had the Astros’ B-team lineup in front of him last night and still gave up seven runs. I was particularly galled in the 6th, with the Cubs have clawed back into the game, Lester wouldn’t give in to Derek Fisher ahead of Alex Bregman, clearly the biggest weapon the Astros had last night. I know Lester’s whole thing is that he never “gives in,” that “giving in” is for weaklings, and “giving in” is what’s ruining this country and whatever else. Still, it’s your last batter of the game, and it’s Derek Fisher. I’m finding out what he can do instead of what whatever clown comes out of the pen can do against Bregman (which took one pitch to find out and the conclusion wasn’t good).
Much like Hamels, Lester’s last three starts have been bad. 14 innings combined, 16 earned runs, four homers, 25 hits. That’s a whole lot of woof. When we last looked at this, we noted that Lester’s BABIP on the season was a hilariously low .231. Well, now it’s .333, which is also way above his career-average. The last three starts, that number is .411. That’s not just a violent market correction. That’s a market correction that is zippering open your chest and feasting on your liver nightly.
But it’s not like some or most of that isn’t deserved. If Lester qualified through innings, he’d had the third-highest hard-contact rate against right now. That’s not necessarily a death-sentence, as the one right behind him is one Madison Bumgarner, and he’s having at least a respectable season. Though Bumgarner also resides at Oracle Park, which requires a bazooka to get a ball out of most nights. Shane Bieber, Cleveland’s hot new thing, is also around this mark, and he’s got a 3.11 ERA that’s real. So does Robbie Ray, but both ray and Bieber strike out more hitters than Lester does. Still, it’s much higher than it’s ever been and that’s worth worrying about.
We also noted in that last post that Lester has gone to his cutter far more this season, and is trying to use it on both sides of the plate instead of just in on the hands of righties. It hasn’t always worked, and the last three starts…well…
Lester has gone away from using the outside corner with his cutter the last three starts, and when he hasn’t gotten it low and inside, he’s getting murdered. Lester has decreased the use of his cutter the last three starts, upping the use of his change and fastball. But the fastball hasn’t been doing much better, with a .571 slugging against in those three starts. He’s also getting next to now whiffs on it.
Lester had made reference to Sahadev Sharma in The Athletic that he just feels off, and this searching for a release point the past three starts speaks to that a bit:
On the plus side, Lester’s velocity has been climbing a bit in the past few starts. On the downside, it’s still down overall this year. It might just be that Lester doesn’t throw hard enough anymore to miss his spot at all, and that righties seem to be getting to fastballs off the plate inside suggest that.
We’ll have to see what Lester does in the next few starts to change, whether that’s more cutters trying to nick the outside corner or junking it up a bit with curves and changes. The Cubs are going to need something.