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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.

movement

+--------------------+-------+-------+
|                    |  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.

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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.