YOU’RE JON LESTER and you’re struggling with your mechanics to find a way back to your role as Ace of the Rotation; you are probably amused by dedicated fans, who, perhaps half-jokingly, subscribe the First Noble Truth of The Game: ‘Baseball is not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.’ You appreciate that Red Sox fans take their team quite seriously and they are now concerned about the mysterious decline in your performance.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and, like most professionals who ply their trade with leather and wood, you make your best effort to succeed; but, unlike most players, you have had the opportunity to learn that, baseball is not a matter of life and death—it’s just a child’s game played by mere mortals, endowed with a precious gift, who then worked hard to realize their potential.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and your own battle with cancer–which was a matter of life and death– transformed your perspective on the relative significance of attempting to put a batter off balance with the speed, rotation, and location of a thrown baseball.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and in 2011, just when you hit the five-year cancer-free mark and your wife Farrah, who you met in Greenville, SC, during your Minor league re-hab stint, gave birth to your son, your dad was diagnosed with cancer.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and on many Red Sox road trips you met kids battling cancer. You said:
“I knew from speaking with them that my experience mattered to these kids and that the words of encouragement helped.”
So with your wife Farrah, you made pediatric cancer research your life’s cause and decided your mantra would be “Never quit;” you established NVRQT, or “Never Quit,” a campaign that supports kids in the fight against cancer.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you live that mantra–”Never Quit”—during those extra sessions in the bullpen, when you and your Pitching coach, Juan Nieves, parse out the parts of your delivery that need to be adjusted to allow you to realize your potential again.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and some guy on a website asks: “What the hell is wrong with Lester?” and writes aboout your increasing reliance on your cutter over the years and your lack of effectiveness with the pitch since 2011. And he cited some stats from FanGraphs:
2008: 330 cutters, opponents hitting .274, .686 OPS, two homers, 71 strikeouts
2009: 500 cutters, opponents hitting .214, .539 OPS, one homer, 41 strikeouts
2010: 728 cutters, opponents hitting .185, .480 OPS, one homer, 71 strikeouts
2011: 798 cutters, opponents hitting .187, .543 OPS, three homers, 87 strikeouts
2012: 454 cutters, opponents hitting .240, .640 OPS, three homers, 45 strikeouts
2013: 319 cutters, opponents hitting .264, .719 OPS, two homers, 29 strikeouts
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you know that the average velocity of your cutter has remained consistent, [ranging from a high of 89.9 mph last season to a low of 87.0 mph in 2008] and that [in 2010]… your average cutter velocity was 89.6 mph, almost identical to this year’s 89.4 mph average.
But, the stats also showed that, over the past two years, your cutter hasn’t produced nearly as many swings and misses, in part because you haven’t located it as well.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you agree with Nieves: you need to add another pitch to your offerings menu; the batters are sitting on your cutter, because it is your “go-to” pitch; you need to make them wonder about another pitch—perhaps a change-up. So, you have been working with Nieves to get the feel for an effective change-up; one you feel is good enough to throw when the batter is sitting on a cutter.
Your manager, Farrell has recognized your efforts:
“We’re seeing a change-up that is a much better pitch now with later action and depth than it was prior…The change-up has become such a weapon for him. For lack of a better way to describe it, it’s part of the adjustment he’s going through as he continues to evolve.”
YOU’RE JON LESTER and your velocity is acceptable and you are throwing fewer cutters and more changeups, so it now seems to come down to the mantra of the real estate salesman:
“Location, location, location.”
Farrell summarized it after your last start:
“It was inconsistent location within the strike zone…”
He says you are not hitting the edges of the strike zone.
Fangraphs concluded that:
“[The] Elite Edge% pitchers, those who hit the edges of the strike zone (especially horizontally) with the highest frequency, are, at the very least, some of the best at limiting walks. We know that the better the Edge%, the better ERA and FIP tend to be.”
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you believe that one of your problems is an inability to repeat your delivery: “Fastball was up, cutter was up, everything. Change-up was up…[I was] not able to repeat whatever pitch I made, whether it be location or the pitch itself. Not good.”
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you know your release point is consistent.
You know that you are releasing the ball from the same height in a consistent manner, so you wonder:
Why can’t I get the ball down in the zone?
Nieves might suspect that either:
- You are releasing the ball from the same height every time, but you are not consistent on the horizontal plane; that is, you are releasing the ball too soon at that height.
- Your plant foot is out too far when you release the ball, which would slow down your hip rotation and your arm follow through.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you and your Pitching coach and Manager believe that you just need to make an adjustment, or two, to get the parts of your pitching motion into alignment and you will be back to pitching the way you did in April [4-0].
So far the consensus is that:
You need to be able to locate all your pitches where you want them.
You need to rely less on your cutter and mix in a new pitch [change-up].
You need to repeat your delivery consistently with all of your pitches.
You need to be able to keep the ball down in the zone.
But there seems to be something else…
YOU’RE JON LESTER and maybe you are unaware that you have been varying the location of your rear foot on the rubber and that may be affecting your “aim” and causing an inconsistency in your location.
LISTEN: “He moved closer to the center of the rubber and then shifted slightly back to the first base side. Here are Lester’s stats as he has moved around on the pitching rubber:
First 6 games: 3.11 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Next 8 games: 4.86 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
Final 8 games: 4.56 ERA, 8.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
I am not sure why Lester moved his positioning on the rubber by almost a foot. After the move, he struggled quite a bit. As he has come back more to the 1B side his results have improved. I don’t believe Lester is hurt, instead a major change in pitching rubber position may have caused the decrease in production.” — Jeff Zimmerman – July 30, 2013, Fangraphs
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you are in the last guaranteed year of your contract ant there is already speculation that you have “lost it” and the organization will not exercise its option to keep you on the team after this season.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you know what all pitchers fear: when you start to “lose it,” you need to find out what you are doing differently from the time you “had it.” So, you go to the pen with the coach and look for the things that are different: release point, length of stride, arm angle, elbow height and angle, hip rotation, and even whether you are tipping off your pitches.
And you watch videos of yourself, when you were in the zone, and everything seemed so effortless and graceful and elegant and the individual parts of your delivery just flowed without a second thought, or without any thinking at all, when the ball popped the catcher’s glove or the batter was crowded by your cutter just under his hands or flailed awkwardly at your change-up.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and most likely it will turn out to be something as simple as starting closer to the middle of the rubber.
But, like so many other pitchers, who suddenly went off the steep cliff from the top of their game to the out of the game, you might leave the Red Sox and drift from team to team, hoping that some other pitching coach [or fellow pitcher] will spot the problem and you will be back on your game.
YOU’RE JON LESTER and you know that “baseball is a funny game,” but also “…designed to break your heart.” So, all you can do now is never quit working on your craft “…keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive.” And you believe that you can be Jon Lester, Ace of the Rotation again.
Yet you have that special understanding that, it’s not a matter of life and death– it’s just a game and that, eventually–
“…just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
Career Leaders & Records for Win-Loss %
+ – Indicates Hall of Famer. Bold indicates active player.
Statistic Description: Win-Loss Percentage W / (W + L) For players, leaders need one decision for every ten team games. For managers, minimum to qualify for leading is 320 games.
Minimum of 1000 IP, 3000 PA, 500 games (fielding), 200 stolen base attempts (catchers) or 80 stolen base attempts (baserunners only since 1951) or 100 decisions for career and active leaderboards for rate statistics.
|Rank||Player (yrs, age)||Win-Loss %||Throws|
|1.||Al Spalding+ (8)||.7950||R|
|2.||Spud Chandler (11)||.7171||R|
|3.||Whitey Ford+ (16)||.6901||L|
|Dave Foutz (13)||.6901||R|
|5.||Bob Caruthers (10)||.6877||R|
|6.||Pedro Martinez (18)||.6865||R|
|7.||Don Gullett (9)||.6855||L|
|8.||Lefty Grove+ (17)||.6803||L|
|9.||Jim Hughes (4)||.6748||R|
|10.||Smoky Joe Wood (14)||.6724||R|
|11.||Babe Ruth+ (22)||.6714||L|
|12.||Bill Hoffer (6)||.6667||R|
|Vic Raschi (10)||.6667||R|
|14.||Larry Corcoran (8)||.6654||R|
|15.||Christy Mathewson+ (17)||.6649||R|
|16.||Sam Leever (13)||.6599||R|
|17.||Roy Halladay (16, 36)||.6590||R|
|18.||Roger Clemens (24)||.6580||R|
|19.||Sal Maglie (10)||.6575||R|
|20.||Dick McBride (6)||.6564||R|
|21.||Sandy Koufax+ (12)||.6548||L|
|22.||Johnny Allen (13)||.6544||R|
|23.||Jered Weaver (8, 30)||.6524||R|
|24.||Ron Guidry (14)||.6513||L|
|25.||David Price (6, 27)||.6505||L|
|26.||Lefty Gomez+ (14)||.6495||L|
|27.||Justin Verlander (9, 30)||.6490||R|
|28.||Tim Hudson (15, 37)||.6487||R|
|29.||John Clarkson+ (12)||.6482||R|
|30.||Mordecai Brown+ (14)||.6477||R|
|31.||Randy Johnson (22)||.6461||L|
|32.||Dizzy Dean+ (12)||.6438||R|
|33.||Pete Alexander+ (20)||.6420||R|
|34.||Hugh Casey (9)||.6410||R|
|CC Sabathia (13, 32)||.6410||L|
|36.||Johan Santana (12, 34)||.6406||L|
|37.||Lady Baldwin (6)||.6404||L|
|38.||Tex Hughson (8)||.6400||R|
|39.||Pedro Borbon (12)||.6389||R|
|40.||Mike Mussina (18)||.6383||R|
|41.||Jim Palmer+ (19)||.6381||R|
|42.||Jon Lester (8, 29)||.6376||L|
|43.||Jerry Nops (6)||.6372||L|
|44.||Johnny Murphy (13)||.6370||R|
|45.||Kid Nichols+ (15)||.6344||R|
|46.||Deacon Phillippe (13)||.6342||R|
|47.||Dwight Gooden (16)||.6340||R|
|Joe McGinnity+ (10)||.6340||R|
|49.||Adam Wainwright (8, 31)||.6327||R|
|50.||Mark Mulder (9)||.6319||L|
SOURCE: CANCER INTERVIEW [http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/17/health/human-factor-jon-lester/index.html?hpt=he_c1]