Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester has not had the spring he desired. Normally this doesn’t merit much thought, but with aging players, it causes a bit more concern.
Even in Spring Training, Jon Lester wants to put his best foot forward and “not suck” as he told Sun Times reporter Gordon Wittenmyer after a rough outing against Oakland Wednesday. The Chicago Cubs left-hander is the first to tell you he is not happy with the spring he is having, as a whole – and that’s putting it rather mildly.
In 11 1/3 innings he sports a 9.53 ERA (12 earned runs) and a 1.68 WHIP. This includes five walks and four home runs surrendered. Opposing batters are hitting a staggering .304 against him.
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Lester mentioned that in his last start vs. the A’s he did not have his cutter working at all which doomed him. There does not appear to be huge velocity drops, the quality of the pitches are just not where they need to be. He has struck out 13 batters (10.3 K/9) but is still getting hit really hard and missing both bats and spots.
So what? It’s spring training and a lot of players struggle as they try to get their rhythm back. That can be the case here, Lester had a 6.48 ERA in the 2015 Cactus League and he pitched to a 3.34 ERA in 205 innings.
These are pretty small sample sizes anyway. But with Lester’s age and trends based on peripherals last year, is there a bigger reason to dig deeper into this?
Evaluating the issues
It is hard not to have any sort of faith in Jon Lester after all he has accomplished. When something does not work, he finds a way to make it work. That was the story of last season. His 3.32 ERA in 181 1/3 innings went along with a 4.39 FIP and dip in K/9 (7.4) from his normal season average as a Cub (roughly 8.9). He was not missing as many bats, but he found ways to pitch to his defense and grind his way through.
Lester has a lot of miles on that left arm: 2,366 regular season innings plus 154 postseason innings, to be exact. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that in his mid-30s, we might see a little bit of a dip in production.
This is something he is going through right now this spring, working on ways to get his pitches to the desired level while continuing to adjust his approach. He is most likely not beating anyone with pure stuff at this point like he used to. There may be some growing pains with it but Lester has found ways to succeed in the past.
So in the end, should we panic over Lester’s spring? Would not go that far, but we can acknowledge that while he may not be quite the dominant force he once was, he still can be effective.
Even if it is not necessarily pretty all of the time. Lester fulfilled his main duty when he signed here in 2015 and the rest is gravy. He will continue to be a positive force in the Chicago Cubs rotation.