Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester entered the 2009 season with enormous expectations. Fresh off a strong 2008 campaign in which he compiled a 3.64 FIP and progressively gained velocity as the season went on, the 25 year-old had plenty of hype surrounding him this offseason.
At first glance, Lester sure seems like a massive disappointment to this point. One might initially feel as though Lester has been shelled in 2009, given his losing record and 6.31 ERA. However, there are a number of reasons to expect a strong rebound from Boston’s co-ace.
Lester might have a grisly ERA, but his 4.35 Fielding Independent ERA is considerably sunnier. His strikeout rate has swelled to 10.67 per nine innings: that’s the sixth-highest rate among all starters. Also, his walk rate has remained stable (2.83 BB/9, compared to last year’s 2.82 mark, and his BB/PA is 7.1% in ’09 compared to 7.6% in ’08).
If anything, that FIP actually understates how good Lester has been: he has surrendered a whopping 1.74 home runs per nine innings, with an inflated HR/FB mark of 17.4%. HR/FB rates tend to hover around 10-11%, and Lester’s career rate sits at 9%. When that rate regresses, Lester’s ERA should drop like a lead balloon. Using Expected Fielding Independent ERA (to root out his poor luck of flyballs), Lester checks in at 3.79. That’s four-tenths of a run lower than last season, and ranks 6th among American League starters.
Lester has also has endured a spate of bad luck on balls put in play: his BABIP sits at .394, tied with fellow Red Sock and rebound candidate Josh Beckett for the highest mark in the big leagues. Boston isn’t performing especially well with the leather as a team (ranking 25th in UZR/150), but that figure will surely drop as time goes on.
This would be the perfect time to pilfer Lester from a frustrated owner. His numbers are superficially gruesome, but the underlying performance is actually very encouraging. If you own Lester, sit tight and wait for better days ahead. If not, then do all you can to acquire him on the cheap.