2013 Projection: Can Jon Lester Rebound Or Will He Flounder Once Again?

Prior to 2012 Jon Lester was a consensus Top 20 starting pitcher. He was young, talented and the ace on one of the better teams in the game. While fantasy owners generally avoid AL East pitchers, he was one of the few that they flocked to.

That makes last season all the more puzzling, as he posted the following line:

9 Wins
205.1 Innings
4.82 ERA
1.38 WHIP
166 Strikeouts (7.28 K/9)
68 Walks (2.98 BB/9)
.312 BABIP
67.6% Strand Rate

The struggles actually date back to Septmber 2011, better known as the great collapse, when Lester posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. Having pitched well the majority of the season it was easy to chalk it up to poor luck (.348 BABIP, 68.4% strand rate), but we all have to be second guessing that thought process now.

There was obvious issues with his luck in 2012, though some may argue that Lester let down while pitching for a poor team. It’s not an impossible theory and, if you subscribe to it, Lester is going to be a pitcher that you want to avoid at all costs in 2013 since it certainly doesn’t look like the Red Sox are going to compete.

That said Lester has a $13 million club option for 2014, so even if the Red Sox are struggling he is going to have an incentive to perform. All another down season will do is keep him from that money and, while a left-handed pitcher with his pedigree could get a similar deal on the open market, if his ERA is in the vicinity of 5.00 once again it may not be likely.

The funny thing is, the mental aspect is the easiest thing to point to, as opposed to a decline in his skills. The strikeouts were down last season, but why? First, lets look at his K/9 over the past four years:

  • 2009 – 9.96
  • 2010 – 9.74
  • 2011 – 8.55
  • 2012 – 7.28

Was there a drop in velocity? Nope, as he has averaged 92.5 mph on his fastball for his career and was at 92.6 in 2012.

What about a change of approach? Not to the naked eye, as his percentage of pitches by type are all similar to his career marks (including throwing his fastball 51.8% last season, as compared to 53.6% for his career).

He was also generating groundballs at his usual solid clip (49.2%). The line drive rate was elevated, at 22.0%, which helps to at least explain a little of the problem. That said, if he s throwing the same stuff as he had been and was between 15.9% and 17.8% the prior three seasons, exactly what changed?

Interestingly enough, Lester posted a 6.31 ERA at home vs. a 3.20 mark on the road. It just continues with the theory that it was more mental then anything, considering his career home ERA sits at 3.89.

Maybe this is a bit optimistic, but as far as expectations for 2013 go here are our projection:

205.0 IP, 15 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 190 K (8.34 K/9), 74 BB (3.25 BB/9), .293 BABIP

At 29- years old, it is awfully hard to think that Lester has simply lost it. His road numbers alone tell us that and all indications point to something more mental than physical. With a contract on the line (to an extent), there is every reason to believe Lester is going to recover from whatever issues he had a year ago. While wins may not be there (though trying to figure that category is always difficult), let the rest of your league shy away from him.  He should prove to be a solid option in all formats and is well worth rolling the dice on as a SP3.

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  1. Capoeira says:

    I would lower the expectations to 12 wins 3.85 era and a 1.29 whip. This makes him a late round pick in my eyes and with his name someone will end up rostering him before his risk becomes worth it in my eyes.

  2. Brooks says:

    On top of what you pointed out, the biggest thing for me that I looked at in knowing that Lester can have a big bounce back year is the re-emergance of John Farrell. When Farrell was there, Lester was borderline elite. When Farrell is not there, he struggled. Enter John back into the picture, and you get a pitcher that will rekindle a lot of his value this year.

  3. Phil says:

    Speaking of struggling SPs from last year…Tim Lincecum…. Im in a keeper league that lets you keep x many players for as long as you want… So i dont have to worry about dollar values… What do you guys make of this: I have 4 spots for the following players –
    Tim Lincecum/ Ike Davis/Jean Segura/ Zack Wheeler/ Miguel Sano/ Neil Walker/ Lance Lynn

    My gut says Lincecum, Davis, Segura, Sano… But any other thoughts?

    • Bryab says:

      Out of those 4, it is easily Lincecum, Lynn, Davis, and Sano for me. Lynn could be a one year wonder but he is a former 1st round pick that put up some beastly #’s for his first year starting in the majors. I don’t think you drop guys with 200k upside who have flashed some skill at the MLB level. Also, Carpenter is out for 2013 so Lynn has a firm spot in the rotation.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      It really depends on if you wat to be looking long-term or for this season.

      For me, the tp three are probably Lincecum, Davis and Sano.

      Wheeler has a higher upside than Lynn, and is someon I would prefer keeping. The wild card is Segura, who I am a fan of, but you can probably get back rather easily. I’d go Wheeler for long-term.

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