2012 Analysis: Can Jon Lester Return To Fantasy Dominance?

You can name almost any Boston Red Sox player from 2011 and find some reason to complain about their performance (yes, there are some exceptions like Jacoby Ellsbury).  Among the disappointments were Jon Lester and, while the numbers were not completely terrible, he also didn’t live up to the expectations:

15 Wins
191.2 Innings
3.47 ERA
1.26 WHIP
182 Strikeouts (8.55 K/9)
75 Walks (3.52 BB/9)
.286 BABIP

At the end of the day the ERA was about what we would’ve expected (he has a career ERA of 3.53) and the WHIP wasn’t all that far off either.  In regards to the latter, an improvement could quickly come from his control. 

In 2008 and 2009 he posted walk rates of 2.82 and 2.83.  Of course, he was at a 3.59 mark in 2010 and a 3.78 over his minor league career.  So, where does the real Lester land?  Over the first four months of the season he actually posted a BB/9 of 3.04 so it clearly was more of a late season swoon that caused his issues (BB/9 of 4.45 and 4.55).  It’s easy to anticipate him posting a much better walk rate and, in turn, a better WHIP.

So where exactly did the issues lie in 2011?  One thing was the wins, though there was nothing we can do about that.  Wins are a category that you can never go into a season expecting regardless of the pitcher or the talent around him.  You would think that if Lester were to post a similar ERA/WHIP in 2012 he would win at least 17 or 18 games, with 20 not out of the question, thanks to the loaded lineup  and strong bullpen (especially if Daniel Bard is back there) backing him up.  Unfortunately, you just never really know.

The other issue was his strikeout rate, as he not only failed to register 200+ strikeouts for the first time since 2008, but he also failed to strikeout over a batter per inning.  Is it an alarming trend or something that should correct itself?

While it certainly wasn’t ideal, he did still post an extremely impressive K/9 of 8.55.  He also showed that he does still have the potential throughout the season with three months of a K/9 above 9.00 (including a 9.09 K/9 over 31.2 September innings).  You have to wonder if a July trip to the DL for a strained lat played a bit of a role limiting his numbers.  Assuming he returns to 200+ innings pitched there is no reason to think that he won’t return to 200+ K.

The bottom line when it comes to Lester is that he should post:

  • An ERA below 3.50
  • A WHIP of 1.24 or better
  • 200+ strikeouts
  • Plenty of wins potential

Exactly what is there not to like?  While there may have been a little disappointment from his 2011 performance, don’t let it cloud your judgment for 2012.  He is a borderline Top 10 starting pitcher and a viable SP1 in all formats.

What are your thoughts of Lester?  Do you think he “rebounds” in 2012?  Is he a pitcher you are looking to target?

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Make sure to check out our 2012 projections:

3 comments

  1. Alex says:

    I like Lester. All it takes is one bad season and people downgrade like crazy. He’s certainly worth taking a chance on as an ace if one waits on SP in a draft.

  2. Malarkey says:

    Lester reminds me of Verlander before last season, always just borderline top tier, but always consistent, like clockwork you know what you’re gonna get… All it takes is one season for everything to fall into place, and just like that, you have greatness!

    • Nick Tenaglia says:

      Define “consistent”? I clearly am playing Devil’s Advocate here, but allow me some leeway…

      On a year-to-year basis, yes Lester is consistent. Starting in ’08 his ERA was 3.21 -> 3.41 -> 3.25 -> 3.47. His WHIP was 1.27 -> 1.23 -> 1.20 -> 1.26. And he has never pitched less than 190 innings…

      But within a single year he can be all over the place from one month to the next.
      ’08 monthly ERAs: 4.31 -> 2.97 -> 3.03 -> 2.05 -> 4.34 -> 2.14
      ’09: 5.40 -> 5.86 -> 1.85 -> 2.60 -> 2.41 -> 2.52
      ’10: 4.71 -> 1.84 -> 2.62 -> 3.63 -> 3.49 -> 3.79
      ’11: 2.52 -> 5.50 -> 2.31 -> 1.56 -> 2.78 -> 5.40

      His average monthly ERA differential since ’08 is 1.41. In plain English, from one month to the next, his ERA could change, for better or for worse, by 1.41. Compare that number to his cumulative ERA since ’08 (3.33), and you are talking about a 42% Variance.

      - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -
      After I completed this analysis of Lester, I wanted to benchmark him against some of the best pitchers in the past 4 seasons (Halladay, Verlander, Sabathia, Lee). All data begins with the ’08 season thru 2011

      Halladay
      Avg Monthly ERA Differential: 0.99
      Cumulative ERA Since ’08: 2.59
      % Variance: 38%

      Verlander
      Avg Monthly ERA Differential: 1.50
      Cumulative ERA Since ’08: 3.45
      % Variance: 43%

      Sabathia
      Avg Monthly ERA Differential: 1.53
      Cumulative ERA Since ’08: 3.05
      % Variance: 50%

      Lee
      Avg Monthly ERA Differential: 2.11
      Cumulative ERA Since ’08: 2.83
      % Variance: 74%
      - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

      So after all of that analysis, I must concede that I was quick to jump all over Lester for his lack of consistency

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