Jon Lester’s Soaring Strikeout Numbers

Although his ERA is higher than last Jon Lester is a substantially better pitcher. Last year he had very good walk (2.82 per 9) and ground ball (47.5%) rates but a slightly below average strikeout (6.5 per 9) rate. This year his walk (2.84) and ground ball (47.7%) numbers are just as good, but his strikeouts are way up (10.16 per 9 second only to Lincecum). He has gone from solidly above average performance last year to elite this year.

He throws all of his pitches about 1.5 mph faster than last year and, probably as a result, the contact rate on all his pitches is way down. This is most likely a big part of the reason for his jump in strikeouts.

Here are Lester’s pitches and a breakdown of how often he throws them.


|                    |  vRHB |  vLHB |
| Four-Seam Fastball |  0.34 |  0.38 | 
| Two-Seam Fastball  |  0.15 |  0.28 |
| Cut Fastball       |  0.26 |  0.14 |
| Curve              |  0.18 |  0.19 |
| Changeup           |  0.07 |  0.01 |

The cutter-sinker (two-seam fastball)-curve combination is like that of Roy Halladay. Although Halladay does not throw a four-seam fastball. Lester throws his two-seam fastball more to lefties, against whom it moves in. And he throws his cutter more to righties, against whom it moves in. This allows him to pitch inside to both lefties and righties.


This confirms what Tony Massarotti wrote in a very good piece about how Boston pitchers work the strike zone when he noted Lester’s ability to control both sides of the plate.

Lester’s emergence as an elite pitcher combined with Josh Beckett‘s continued high-level performance gives Boston a top of the rotation as strong as any other playoff contender’s.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

13 Responses to “Jon Lester’s Soaring Strikeout Numbers”

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  1. Matt S. says:

    Lester has been hurt this season by both a lack of run support and by his defense which has been pretty bad. If he had better help from his team he might be more involved in Cy Young talks. His pitching has been extremely effective since early May when he hit his groove.

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    • Slick says:

      It’s called bad luck. He couldn’t overcome it early on. No matter how good you are, you sometimes can’t catch a break.

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  2. Matt B. says:

    Lester has been lights out this year. To the less trained (media) eye, it might look like his season has been worse based on ERA, W-L etc.

    Not to be that guy, and I know people were pissed at that guy selling his site so I won’t push the envelope but I wrote a piece on Roy Halladay’s “struggles” (as the Toronto media called it). Take a look at Doc`s schedule the past month it has been ridiculous, needless to say…

    Click my name or visit below. Would love to hear feedback, good or bad. No more advertising I promise!

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    • Judy says:

      Don’t worry, this is one guy you don’t have to worry about being overlooked by the MSM, they’ve been gushing over him since long before he’d demonstrated the performance to support it. Partly because of his story and the team he plays for, but mostly because they report the gushing of scouts, coaches, and opposing hitters.

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  3. CaR says:

    And to think that just a couple of seasons ago, an all-around expert claimed that the combination of Lester and Papelbon wasn’t worth noted slugger disguised as 5th OF, Jeremy Reed.

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  4. Jeff K says:

    I went to high school with Lester. He was/is a ridiculous athlete. He had D1 offers for football and basketball by his sophomore year, could drive a golf ball almost 300 yards, and the Reds were looking at drafting him as a hitter. It’s awesome to see how good of a pitcher he’s becoming

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  5. Steve C says:

    Verducci Effect and in increase in velocity don’t seem to go very well together.

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    • Judy says:

      Oh, I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to point out to someone what an especially poor example Jon Lester’s 2009 season is of the Verducci Effect.

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  6. thumble says:


    Great job using the charts to show consisely why Lester is so effective. The location chart really drives the point home.

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  7. joser says:

    Pick a new name. I’m the real one, and I was never suspended.

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  8. Joe R says:

    Lester in 2009 shows how ERA can fail.

    2008′s ERA of 3.21 vs. 2009′s of 3.41 makes it look like he did worse. However, first off, he played in front of a better defense in 2008 (as reflected in his BABIP). Second, his HR/FB rate normalized to 10.6% (and his HR/9 was 0.89). Given this, 2009 was much more reflective of Lester’s “real” abilities, and his real abilities now is a K/9 of nearly 10. Lester’s clearly shown an ability to be a low to mid 3′s ERA guy for years to come.

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