Chicago Cubs: Early weakness found with Jon Lester?


A case of the Yips or something more for Lester?

Jon Lester‘s Opening Night start for the Chicago Cubs wasn’t the best but it wasn’t all that bad either.  It was expected that he would be on a bit of a pitch count with his limited spring outings due to his tired arm.  His pitching wasn’t a real concern.  The concern now could be before he pitches the ball because of the lack of pick-off attempts.

Last season Lester did not attempt a single pick-off – not one.  For a left-handed pitcher that is almost unheard of. Left-handed pitchers are generally the toughest to run on because they are facing the runner on first and it can be tough to distinguish a pick-off from a pitching attempt.

This lack of pick-off attempts wasn’t just an issue last year – it has been an ongoing issue over the last several years. From 2009 when he had 79 attempts, 2010 went up to 98, then a big drop off to 70 in 2011, 2012 there was five, and 2013 up to seven attempts.

You can add those up for a grand total of 259 attempts in six seasons.  The Detroit Tigers all-star Justin Verlander last year alone had 199 attempts.

So what is the issue?

During the broadcast of the game – ESPN analysts Curt Schilling commented on a few highlights of some of his attempts.  They were very nonchalant – almost like a dad throwing lightly to his kid playing soft toss.  As they said on the broadcast that it does seem like almost a case of the “yips”.

For those who don’t know about the “yips” – Wikipedia defines it as “the loss of fine motor skills without apparent explanation”.  Basically, he’ll throw the ball into the fifth row if he tries to throw the ball over to first base.

It could be something as simple as the mental part of throwing over to first or it could just be something as simple as he is more concerned with the next man up.  The only person that can answer that is Lester himself.

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You can say that he’s doing his job by not worrying about the runner and focusing on the hitter – that is true but when you have a good base runner on first it will cause problems.

If there is a runner who knows that Lester will not throw – you’re putting your catcher and infielders into a position where they know they are going to have to make a play, preventing the runner from getting into scoring position.

David Ross did a good job at throwing one of the runners out and he would have had a second if his throw was more up and not a one-hop – but you can’t count on the catcher and infielder to always make that play.

Now I’m not trying to make this into some doomsday scenario that if he doesn’t fix this then we will never win and it wasn’t worth signing him.  It is just something that the Cubs are going to have to keep in mind because you know that all National League managers are.

When the Cubs play the Reds, you can bet that Billy Hamilton will be even more eager to run knowing that his career 74% success rate will be more like 95% with Lester on the mound.

You could actually look at this case as something like what the NBA had with “Hack-A-Shaq” – any time Shaquille O’Neal had the ball, he was fouled. Considering he shot better from the field than at the charity stripe – it was a smart move.

Again this isn’t a huge issue and it isn’t anything new to Lester.  Simple adjustments will be made – whether that will be having the catcher pop out of his crouch more often, Lester stepping off some, and changing his time in between pitches.

Just as long as Lester stays focused on the next man up and getting him out – I think the rest of the team will worry about the runner.

Next: Lester, Cubs Drop Opener To Cardinals 3-0