Can Jon Lester Turn It Around?

by Jimmy Hascup

After a breakout 2008 season everyone expected Jon Lester to reach stardom this year.  He was to form a potent one-two punch atop the Red Sox rotation with Josh Beckett and help bring home another World Series to Beantown.  At 25-years old, it was time for Lester to really put it together and become that dominant force the Red Sox hoped for when they drafted him in 2002.

The 2009 season has rolled along and here we have a struggling pitcher, leaving many to question why they took him this year to be a top starter in their fantasy rotation.  I know that in my keeper league the manager who had him this year was expecting him to be a shoe-in as a keeper for this year, and many more to come. Now Lester’s been traded about a half dozen times, as each owner tries to find some optimism in what’s been a dismal season.  What we have here is a buy-low candidate and one pitcher who could definitely aid an ailing rotation.  That is, if his numbers improve to the norm as they point toward.

Let’s see the discouraging numbers from Lester this season: 

3 Wins
59.1 Innings
6.07 ERA
1.60 WHIP
62 Strikeouts (9.4 K/9)
21 Walks (3.19 BB/9)
.374 BABIP

If you haven’t paid attention, I’m sure those numbers shock you almost to the point where you have to say he has nowhere to go but up.  Throughout his career, his highest ERA was in 2006 at 4.76.  Now its 6.07.  All I can say is wow!  The highest WHIP he’s ever had was also in 2006 when it was 1.65.  He gave up a lot of hits (91 in 81 IP) that year, along with walking 43, explaining the high WHIP.  It’s almost like this year is a replica of that 2006 rookie season.  He’s given up 74 hits in 59.1 innings this year.  Since his rookie year his peripheral numbers and rates have done nothing but drop and get better… until now.

The BABIP screams aberration.  Lester’s BABIP leads all of baseball.  He hasn’t had a BABIP this high since 2006, when it was only .332.  The league average is around .300, leaving Lester over 70 points more.  It’s literally impossible that batters hit .370 on the balls they put in play against him for the rest of the season. 

Furthermore, Jon Lester has an extremely modest FIP- Fielding Independent Pitching.  FIP is a statistic that is basically ERA without the fielders’ influence.  It measures all the things that a pitcher is directly responsible. FIP is an extremely beneficial statistic in determining whether or not a pitchers ERA is fluky or not.  Lester’s FIP is 4.68, which doesn’t sound that solid, but compared to a 6.07 ERA, there is a huge difference.  Using FIP and ERA: Lester should be in line for an improvement of at least 1.41 runs in ERA (difference between ERA and FIP).

Jon Lester is also sporting a superb 9.4 K/9 rate, which shows that his stuff is still extremely good.  His K/9 is an improvement of his 6.5 K/9 from last year, yet his ERA/WHIP numbers are still far worse.  Additionally, he’s always been one who walked quite a few batters, so his 3.19 BB/9 isn’t that bad for him.  Last season he had a 2.82 BB/9.

This year Lester’s been prone to the long-ball, giving up 11 HRs in just 59.1 IP.  Last season he gave up 14 HR all season, which was the most of his career.  I’d definitely expect that number to be broken, but I also expect the rate at which opponents are hitting homeruns against Lester to decrease. 

Here we have a pitcher, in Lester, who should most certainly improve.  It’s not like he plays for a dismal franchise.  The Red Sox will almost always give him a chance to win, but luck has to revert back in his favor.  I can’t say exactly when this will happen, but eventually it has to.  Lester has to be considered one of the favorites out of any player underperforming to bounce back this season.  Even if he finishes the season with a 4.00 ERA, that means he’s got to be somewhat dominant compared to what he’s done up to this point. 

I’m ready to see a better Jon Lester.  He takes the mound this afternoon with a chance to start turning things around against the Blue Jays.  Will you guys take the chance?  Or are you fed-up with what he’s done this year?

To read the previous article, click here.

Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.

One comment

  1. Rob says:

    I absolutely agree, and have been pursuing Lester. However, I believe that the general consensus is that with his K/9 increasing and all his other peripherals (most importantly, LD%) remaining stable, he will definitely turn it around, and could be much better than he was last year. Therefore, no one seems to be selling. I’ll keep plugging away, though.

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