Cubs’ Jon Lester must use his fastball more effectively


After striking out 10 over six innings of work in an extra-inning win against the Cincinnati Reds this week, Chicago Cubs’ left-hander Jon Lester seems to have figured something out. However, whether or not that translates to his first win of the season sometime in the near future remains to be seen.

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Ever since he stumbled out of the gates, throwing 89 pitches through just 4 1/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field on Opening Night, Lester has been a popular target of Cubs’ fans criticism – which, to be fair, is somewhat warranted.

Across four starts spanning 21 2/3 innings, the veteran southpaw has served up 15 runs – culminating in an unsightly 6.23 earned run average. That figure would be poor for any big league starting pitcher, let alone one who earned a six-year, $155 million deal this offseason – the largest free agent contract given in franchise history.

Since that disappointing Opening Night start, Lester has been a mixed bag. His next start, which came on April 13 against the Cincinnati Reds, was forgettable, to say the least. He served up half-a-dozen runs in six innings of work, but the offense bailed him out in a 7-6 win.

Throughout his four outings, one alarming trend has emerged from Lester. To sum it up quickly, his fastball isn’t getting the job done. His fastball hasn’t been chased by opposing hitters out of the zone like it has in year’s past, as evidenced by his O-Swing %, which has fallen to a 12.7 percent clip – a far cry from his career mark of 26.1 percent.

Last season, which Lester split between the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, that mark was at 23.7  percent. His location has been an issue all-season long, and given he throws his fastball more than any other pitch, hitters have made him pay consistently.

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His line-drive percentage is off-the-charts as opposed to season’s past, as well. Both his fastball and his cut-fastball have been rocked consistently by opponents, with batters hitting liners off fastballs 40 percent of the time and cutters in 51.7 percent of at-bats. In contrast, his career numbers, respectively, come in at 21 and 22.5 percent.

Lester took the loss in his third start, as well, falling at home to the San Diego Padres after turning in a 5 1/3 inning, three-run effort in which he walked two, struck out four and allowed his first home run of the season. His first road start of the season, which came this week against Cincinnati, was easily his strongest outing of 2015 – for multiple reasons.

As noted above, the lefty struck out a season-high 10 batters, despite not earning a decision, pitching six innings and again allowing a trio of earned runs. Keeping runs off the board has plagued Lester all season, and unless he starts to locate his fastball and his cut-fastball more effectively, opposing hitters could give him fits all year-long.

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