Lester & Beckett: All-Star Game Starters?

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There was no early season struggles or April slump for Jon Lester to start the 2011 season.  Sure he got roughed up a little on Opening Day against Texas and it took four starts before he picked up his first win, but all he did after that win against Toronto was win four starts in a row and seven of his next eight. 

Lester has started in 14 games this season for Boston and is sitting nicely with a record of 9 wins and only 2 losses.  His 9 wins are the best in the American League and tied for the overall Majors lead with the great Roy Halladay of the Phillies.  Hot on his heels are Baltimore’s Jake Arrieta and Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers with 8 wins.

Meanwhile, former ace of the staff, Josh Beckett has bounced back in a big way this season and it appears he’s ready to take a run at Lester for the number one role.  After a difficult 2010 season that saw Beckett on the DL for a good chunk of the year, 2011 is shaping up to be a career year for Beckett.  His record is 5-2, thanks in large part to 6 no decisions this year; in two of them he never allowed a run, once he allowed one run and another he allowed just two runs. 

But while Lester may lead the league in wins and Beckett in ERA, don’t get too excited about early All-Star Game starters just yet, as the nubmers aren’t necessarily in their favor and we all know the numbers don’t lie.

Below are some stats and how Jon Lester and Josh Beckett stack up against the other AL aces.  I’ve decided to focus on four other starters: CC Sabathia – New York Yankees.  Justin Verlander – Detroit Tigers.  Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners.  Jered Weaver – LA Angels. 

INNINGS PITCHED:  Lester has thrown a combined 89.1 innings of work so far which is good for 12th spot. Beckett sits in 25th with 83.0 IP.  Leading the AL is King Felix Hernandez with 106.1, followed by Justin Verlander at 102.2.  CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver round out the top four with 100.1 and 100.0 respectively. 

ERA:  Beckett owns this category with a nice 2.06 ERA.  Lester’s ERA is a modest 3.73 which puts him all the way down to 28th spot in the American League.  The above mentioned Hernandez, Sabathia, Verlander and Weaver all have an ERA lower than Lester with only Sabathia and Hernandez over 3.00. 

STRIKEOUTS:  The southpaw ace of the Red Sox staff does have 87 strikeouts so far this season, good enough for 6th spot in the AL.  Beckett is 15th with 73 batters fanned.  Once again, Hernandez leads all pitchers with 103.  Verlander is 3rd with 93, Weaver 4th with 90.  Sabathia is in 12th with only 70 strikeouts, a far cry from his usual numbers. 

COMPLETE GAMES:  Here’s an interesting stat: neith Lester nor Beckett has yet to go the distance in any game so far this season.  In fact, both have only gone 8.0 innings twice this season.  James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays has 3 complete games, followed by 8 others with 2 including Weaver, Hernandez and Verlander. 

WHIP:  When it comes to the WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) again Lester is well down the line, coming at 24th with an average of 1.28.  Still a decent number, but just think there are 27 other pitchers with a better average.  Meanwhile Beckett sits 6th best with an average of 1.01.  Alexi Ogando of the Texas Rangers, who has impressive numbers in pretty much every category, leads with a WHIP of 0.90.  Verlander is second with 0.94 and Weaver third at 0.95.

HOME RUNS ALLOWED:  Once again, Lester’s numbers aren’t bad in this category as he’s surrendered 11 long balls thus far.  He’s tied for 11th but most noticeably, all the other pitchers being mentioned, Sabathia, Verlander, Weaver and Hernandez have surrendered less homers.  Verlander is the next closest with 10. Beckett on the other hand has only served up 4 homers this year. 

WALKS ALLOWED:  Lester has walked 33 batters, the 9th most in the AL, while Beckett has offered 30 free passes, good for 14th most.  Only Hernandez, with 35,  has more of all the pitchers being focused on.

So here we sit in mid June and with the Red Sox sitting in first place.  Both Lester and Beckett are huge reasons for the first place tag on the Red Sox as both have pitched like everyone knew they could.  Lately, Lester has veered off a little from his dominating ways although he appears to  have righted the ship with his last outing against Toronto where he went 8.0 innings and only gave up 1 run on just 2 hits while fanning 8.

There is still a lot of baseball left to be played and a lot can happen.  I just thought it might be fun to look at how Lester and Beckett match up against some of the other top pitchers in the league and how they might fare in landing the All-Star Game starting role for the AL.

Most likely they’ll go with whoever has the most wins, but sometimes there’s more to it.

After all, it won’t be long and we’ll be talking Cy Young candidates.

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