Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, April 10, 2008

WILL THE REAL JON LESTER PLEASE STAND UP?

There's no doubt that the Red Sox organization thinks highly of Jon Lester; he is expected to become one of the anchors of the pitching staff for years to come. In fact, the Sox like him so much they wouldn't pull the trigger on the Johan Santana trade. Some see Lester as a #2 starter, and he has been compared to successful lefties such as Bruce Hurst and even Andy Pettitte.

But with those lofty expectations comes a pressure that could be tough for him to live up to.

It's very early in Lester's young career, and he could certainly live up to the hype and projections that have followed him since his days in the minors. At this point he is just a budding 24-year-old, and perhaps a rising star. The Red Sox have thought so since they selected him in the second round of the 2002 draft.

But Lester continues to have control issues, which have led to far too many base runners and high pitch counts. That, in turn, has ultimately led to short starts, resulting in additional stress on the Sox bullpen. For example, last night Lester only lasted 5 1/3 innings -- as has become customary -- and allowed 9 base runners (5 hits, 4 walks). Base runners usually mean trouble for Lester, and sure enough he allowed 4 earned runs.

Lester can be tantalizingly good, and then frustratingly bad. In fairness, he seems just average, which is better than bad. But he has long been expected to be better than that.

Inconsistency has plagued Lester from the beginning, and belies his 12-4 Big League record. The truth is, Lester has the privilege of playing for the best team in baseball, one with a high-powered offense that can put runs on the board in bunches, and in a hurry. He has clearly benefitted from that run production; his record is much better than it should be, as evidenced by his 4.66 career ERA.

Lester had a WHIP of 1.46 in 2007, and has allowed a staggering 249 base runners in his 160 career innings. You could say he is a victim of his own making. The high pitch counts have often led him to tire early, and he’s averaged just 5.5 innings per start. These statistics are not good, and not the sign of a rising star.

Lester needs to work on his control and lower his walk total; perhaps that would also help lower his ERA and extend his starts. He would be wise to put the ball over the plate and trust his defense. All of his attempts at finesse and painting the corners are not working for him (at least let's hope that's what he's trying -- if not, his control is even worse than it appears). He simply isn't throwing strikes, and to be a successful Big League pitcher he needs to.

So, the jury is still out on Jon Lester. But, as noted, it's still quite early in his career. Maybe he will develop in the next Bruce Hurst for the Red Sox, or even an Andy Pettitte. But at this point all of that seems like too much hype; the expectations should be much more realistic for him. He will continue to frustrate and to tantalize. At times he will look like an All Star, or even an ace. At others, he will look like he still belongs in Triple A.

Get used to it.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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