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:
166 Strikeouts (7.28 K/9)
68 Walks (2.98 BB/9)
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.
***** There are now two ways to purchase the Rotoprofessor 2013 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide ( complete with expanded rankings, prospect lists, Top 25 sleepers and so much more)!!
1) Order the guide for $6 2) Make a $10 deposit at FanDuel (if you have never deposited before) and get an additional $10 to play with and the Rotoprofessor Draft Guide Free!
Click here for details!!*****
Make sure to check out all of our 2013 projections: