JABO: Jon Lester Still Has Things Under Control

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.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.

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.

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8 years ago

This is a good article, and it does a good job of tamping down any concern of Lester’s inability to pickoff over a full season, but I would have liked to see at least a bit more discussion about the implications it can have on the playoffs.

The article even acknowledges the significance by talking about the wild-card game last year, but doesn’t chalk it up to being more than “anything random can happen in a game.”

Sure, Lester may have only given up 6 runs to batters that have stolen a base, and maybe only 3 or 4 are a result of his lack of a move. But runners are succeeding against him at an 81% rate, and if the Cubs make the dance and draw a quick or aggressive team, it’s totally feasible that they could snag 5 or 6 extra bases off of him.

Yes, the effect of his lack of ability is probably null over the aggregate of a full season, but in a high-leverage spot like the playoffs, those extra runs that get washed out in the noise of 162 games become a whole lot more significant.

state the obvious
8 years ago
Reply to  Jon

i felt he stated that it can have an effect on a game. however it can also have no effect if lester limits the baserunners to begin with. most playoff teams dont have too much of a speed factor to worry about, the pirates are the only n.l playoff team even above average. even after last year he’s still been pretty nasty in the playoffs.

8 years ago
Reply to  Jon

I’m pretty sure that the stolen base success rate is close to 81% off of just about everybody who doesn’t play for St. Louis