Chicago Cubs: Analytics project a second-half regression for Jon Lester

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(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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After a superb first half, Chicago Cubs veteran Jon Lester will surely set his sights on continuing his success with hopes of winning another World Series.

This isn’t Jon Lester’s first rodeo. The Chicago Cubs left-hander has made a career out of pitching for teams consistently in pennant races; and performing at a high level when it matters most. So when some new analytics tell me that Lester is due to see a spike to his ERA, I’m not panicking.

First half success

Lester is currently 11-2 with a 2.45 ERA to this point. Next week, he heads to his fifth All-Star Game. He has been a reliable ace in a rotation that has otherwise struggled with consistency. Lester’s ERA ranks fifth in the National League. His 11 wins are tied for second only to Philadelphia Phillies ace Aaron Nola.

Lester served as a lifeboat, of sorts, this year. The Cubs still lack a hard target return date for Yu Darvish. For the better part of the past month, Chicago played without former MVP Kris Bryant. Anthony Rizzo, meanwhile, continues an up and down campaign.

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Without Lester, I don’t see the Cubs sticking with the Brewers in the NL Central. The Cubs currently sit 1 1/2 games of from their neighbors from the north. Things could  be a lot worse given these circumstances.

Projecting Lester’s second half

Despite Lester’s strong 2.45 ERA, he has a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 4.10. This is a new statistic used to measure what a pitchers ERA “should be” based on the amount of hard contact he gives up along with other variables.

Some see this as a red flag for Lester, but I’m not as quick to jump ship.

Lester has given up his fair share of hard contact this season, but thanks to stellar defense behind him, he’s recorded outs regardless. He recognizes he enjoys some of the most skilled defenders in all of baseball behind him. So, why not use it to your advantage?

Adapting with age

Lester sits in the midst of his age-34 season. He suffered from a notable drop in velocity from last season, but rebounded in 2018 regardless.

I’d attribute this to Lester’s ability to recognize that he won’t be able to blow hitters away anymore, and will likely need to pitch to contact more as he enters what is probably the final stage of his career.

Lester has seen his strikeout rate dip this season. He has a career mark of 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings, which is down to 6.9 this season. Despite allowing more contact, Lester is keeping batters off of the base paths. Lester had allowed 8.9 hits per nine innings last season and has lowered that to 7.3 this season.

He has shown the ability to change his game in order to get hitters out and pitch deeper into ball games. Lester is the ultimate winner, and I’d expect nothing less than him doing everything in his power to help his team reach the postseason and beyond.

Next: Where should Bryant hit now that he's back?

There will be a lot of factors this summer’s Central Division race but if there’s one thing Cubs fans can count on its that their unheralded ace will be ready to go when called upon.

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