Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester sets tone for his 2019 season

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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Jon Lester got the win in the Chicago Cubs season opener, and he pitched a game which saw mostly contact outs with few swings-and-misses. Expect this to be Lester’s continued approach going forward.

There are a number of things that can be taken away from the Chicago Cubs 12-4 season-opening win in Texas. One of them was the solid start by Jon Lester who went six innings and gave up only two runs. It was not a masterpiece to hang on a wall, but he found a way to be effective and efficient.

He was at 98 pitches when finished after this sixth and probably could have gone seven, but no reason to work Lester harder when up by a lot. The 35-year old veteran did all we could ask for. Starts like these are what we should probably expect from Lester more often than not at this point. Sure he will have some outings where he dominates like the ace of old, but this Thursday’s performance will be a common theme.

What exactly do we mean by “starts like these” specifically? This mainly means where most of Lester’s outs are made via flyballs and contact in general as he pitches to his defense. He will not beat batters with his stuff as often as he used to at this point of his career. We saw it last season. His 3.32 ERA also came with a 4.39 FIP and a 1.6 drop in his K/9 from 2017. He grinded through games, adjusted his approach, and made it work.

Breaking down Jon Lester’s first start.

The traditional pitching line, his start reads as follows: 6.0 / 2 ER / 4 H / 3 K / 2 BB on 98 pitches. He threw 57 strikes with nine of them being swings-and-misses. Batters against him hit 12 flyballs, six grounders and six line drives. His pitches were a lot of upper-80s and 90-ish (MPH).

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Only one flyball left the park and that was off the bat of Elvis Andrus, who accounted for the only Ranger runs off Lester. Other flyball outs were routine for the most part. Several liners went either right to the glove of fielders who did not need to move, while one was caught nicely by a diving Albert Almora. Long story short, he pitched to his defense, got mostly contact outs and did not walk a lot of guys even when seeing a number of deep counts early. Made sense that Joe Maddon had many of his best gloves out there including Almora, Jason Heyward and David Bote.

Again referencing 2018, his adjustments to being a flyball pitcher were evident when his groundball% dipped 8.5% and his flyball% rose, resulting in a 1.04 GB/FB which is the lowest he has recorded since becoming 30+ game starter (2008 – present).

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Some expressed some concern about Lester after his rough spring training this season. Being a flyball pitcher who throws mainly 89-91 as Lester does can be fine to work with on this team, and Lester is smart enough to adjust accordingly. It is however also scary on those July days where the wind howls out. It will not always be pretty. All he has to do is be most efficient with it and he can continue to make it work.

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