Notable Numerals: Jon Lester
All the players have reported and now it is time for the 2011 Boston Red Sox team to begin getting in game shape. As the Notable Numerals series continues, we look at one of the real bright, young stars in the Red Sox organization. Jon Lester has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past few years, after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in September of 2006. He was coming off his strong rookie season, but thankfully, was able to fight the disease and even start 11 games the following season. His rise to the top has been nothing short of inspiring and it is a testament to his strong work-ethic and constant focus on improving and growing as a starter. To overcome such a devastating diagnosis at age 22 has helped Lester mature well beyond his years and he has developed into a strong leader on the mound, taking command of games that he pitches. Let’s take a look at some of his career numbers in this week’s Notable Numerals.
Hits per 9 innings in 2010. That number placed him 4th best in AL last season, which is remarkable considering the top arms in the league. Along with his hits number, Lester led the league in with 9.736 K’s per 9 innings, an impressive number considering the level of competition he faces in the AL East (more on his numbers against the AL East later). His ability to strikeout hitters and mow-through lineups makes him a joy to watch on the mound and tortuous to bat against for opposing hitters. Being the only lefty in the Red Sox rotation, Lester plays a critical role in redirecting the hitter’s eye during a series with the Sox, especially when the post-season comes around. If he can maintain his strikeout and hit numbers in 2011, there is no reason he can’t win 19 games like he did last year and maybe even surpass the 20 mark for the 1st time in his career.
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K’s the past 2 seasons combined. Lester has finished 3rd in the AL the past 2 years in strikeouts, with identical 225 numbers. When he is at his best, Lester is a straight shut-down pitcher with dominant command. As a comparison, Lester struck out more batters last season than aces C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Ubaldo Jimenez (not to mention the vast majority of MLB pitchers in general). Just 3 pitchers in all of baseball had more strikeouts than the 27-year old, and they weren’t pitching against baseball’s best batters in the AL East, not to mention all 3 accumulated more innings than Lester (Felix Hernandez pitched 41.2 inning more than Lester and had just 7 more K’s). It is hard to argue that Jon Lester is not one of the best pitchers in the AL at this point in his young career, with more room for growth and improvement every season.
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Batting average for opponents in 2010. Lester took a giant step forward last season with an improved batting average against number, .027 below his career mark. What was surprising and impressive about that stat was his balance against righties and lefties. As a lefty, the statistics usually lean toward a better number against lefty batters, but Lester’s was the opposite. Righties hit .219 and lefties hit .226 against Lester in 2010, which shows his ability to get batters out, period. A stat that shocked me the most, was the opponent batting average against each time through the lineup. For the 1st 3 times Lester goes through a lineup, the opponent batting average decreases each time. Normally, batting averages increase with each plate appearance, because the batters begin to figure out the pitcher. Not Lester, because he has the ability to adapt to the game and mix-up his patterns as the game wears on. Also, in clutch situations throughout his career (2 outs and runners in scoring position), Lester allows an opponent batting average of just .203, the lowest of any scenario. His ability to lock down in pressure situations has helped him succeed.
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Winning percentage against the AL East. This is a number that will make most fans smile and just laugh. The toughest division in baseball, matched-up against some of the best pitchers and hitters in the game, and Lester has been dominant. In 57 games, Lester is 35-8 against divisional opponents (Baltimore Orioles 13-0, New York Yankees 6-1, Tampa Bay Rays 9-3, Toronto Blue Jays 7-4). Compared to his already impressive overall .709 winning percentage in 124 career games (61-25, 1 relief appearance), it shows that pressure situations, on the largest stage, Lester is ready to dominate and carry his team. You can’t accidently be 6-1 against the Yankees or 9-3 against the Rays, because they present formidable lineups every single game, with hitters like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria and, formerly, Carl Crawford. Both lineups are relentless, but Lester feeds off that challenge and steps up when the team needs him the most.
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Wins in April in 17 career starts. This is the only negative stat I am going to share with you, and frankly, maybe the only negative stat on Lester’s resume at all. Lester struggles in April, no bones about it. He has just a .333 winning percentage in the month and allows an opponent batting average of .269. His era is 4.76 in April, the highest of any month of the season and like clockwork, the past 3 seasons, Lester has been 1-2. He is nothing if he is not consistent. His slow starts mirror David Ortiz’s slow starts, where he gets in a funk, but then battles his way through and becomes the pitcher we know and love beginning in May. For a power, strike out type pitcher, a slow start is not unusual, because it takes time to feel comfortable with all your pitches and get your arm-strength up to throw in the mid-90s against top competition. Watch out for another April slump this year for Lester, but if history is any indication, that slump will be ancient history beginning in May, when Lester once again makes a bid for the AL Cy Young in 2011. If he can shake off his April struggles, watch out for a 20-win campaign from the lefty.