Last year’s Royals caused us to fall in love with stolen bases all over again. The AL Wild Card Game put their utility on display, and it was around that game the whole nation turned its attention to Jon Lester’s refusal to attempt any pickoffs. I probably don’t need to review this for you, so I’ll skip ahead. When Lester began this year with the Cubs, plenty of people were wondering whether he’d attempt more pickoffs than the zero he tried in 2014. He seemed like a pitcher who could be taken advantage of.
Flash back to the first month of the season. Lester threw over, all right. Twice. Sort of.
It got worse.
That second one went viral, if the use of that word doesn’t make you all itchy. Two attempts, with one bad throw, and one dreadful throw right after. Lester put the pickoff in his back pocket, not trying again until Thursday. Here’s what happened, if you aren’t already sick of watching the highlight on television:
I think this much is safe to say: Lester, pretty clearly, has a mental block. It’s possible this is all a fluke, but it’s highly unlikely, as it seems like Lester simply isn’t comfortable throwing the baseball in that direction. All right, that much we’ve suspected for a while. It’s also safe to say that the Royals sort of opened the floodgates. During last year’s regular season, Lester never threw over, but he allowed just 16 stolen bases. This year he’s up to a league-leading 35, after Thursday’s mayhem. The Brewers stole five times, four times in the third inning alone. No longer can Lester keep a runner close just by looking at him. This year, the runners are taking more chances. This year, Lester is letting them.
It’s easy to see the mistakes. It’s easy to see the three bad throws out of three attempted throws, and it’s easy to see the runners running wild. It’s easy to remember what happened to Lester in Kansas City. Given all this information, and given the rather extraordinary nature of the issue, it’s easy to figure this is a big deal. That the baserunners are out of control. To some extent, they absolutely are. But by far the thing that remains most important is Lester is really good at getting outs. The running game isn’t the factor it’s made out to be.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.