Although he’s known as the top Red Sox starter, Jon Lester hasn’t been pitching like one this season. He’s only 5-5 on the year with a 4.53 ERA, numbers more associated with an end of the rotation starter than an ace.
He has been much better as of late, however. And with the Red Sox looking to close the gap in the AL East, they'll need Lester to step up over the second half of the season. The following five slides show why that’s the case.
Although Lester’s ERA is 4.53, other statistics show that a large part of that figure can be attributed to bad luck.
FIP—fielding independent pitching—is a metric that measures a pitcher's success by only what he can control: home runs, walks and strikeouts. It’s calibrated to be on the same scale as ERA.
For his career, Lester has an ERA of 3.63 and a FIP of 3.65—right in line with what they should be. But this season, his FIP is 3.68, suggesting that he’s pitching better than his ERA indicates.
xFIP is a similar statistic that is essentially the same as FIP, expect for the fact that it takes a pitchers HR/FB ratio and puts it to league average, and then calculates a figure in line with ERA. It’s meant to measure if a pitcher has been more susceptible than usual to home runs.
For his career Lester’s xFIP is 3.71, and this year it’s 3.65. With that number one would expect a similarly low ERA, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
As Lester continue the season, look for those numbers to normalize and for him to reel off a stretch of great starts.
A large part of Lester’s early season struggles can be attributed to the amount of walks he gave up. In his first four starts to begin the year, he walked 13 batters while allowing 16 runs.
He's found his command of late, as in his last six starts, Lester's allowed only six walks. As a pitcher who currently has a .313 BABIP against him—which ranks in the top 10 in the AL—limiting his walks is a major key to his success.
In Lester’s recent outing against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, he improved his record to 5-5 by allowing four runs in seven innings. Three of those runs, however, came by way of the home run, including a two-run blast from the red hot Jose Bautista.
Other than the long balls, Lester had a great start in which he allowed just seven base runners in his seven innings. The start capped off a month where he’s had a 4.01 ERA. While that’s not ace material, the Red Sox have been in all of the games he’s pitched this month.
With Lester's command and consistency back, don't be surprised if he allows one or two runs in his next couple of starts.
Throughout his career Lester has been a much better pitcher in the later months of the season. Whatever the reason, in recent years he's struggled in the earlier months, but has been able to find his groove as the season progresses.
In his career he’s put up an ERA of 4.22 in March/April, and 4.11 in May. His best month has been June in which he sports an ERA of 2.78, and July’s not far behind, as he has a 2.99 career ERA.
He’s followed that pattern again this year, as he’s put up a much better ERA in June than in either April or May. Look for him to continue his career trend and pitch well as the summer heat rises in Boston.
Lester has been a big game pitcher in his career, as evidenced by his 2.57 postseason ERA, and him winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series in only his second season in the majors.
With the Red Sox quietly ascending to third place in the division and standing only 6.5 games back of the Yankees, the team knows it’s in a great position to make up even more ground before and after the All-Star break.
As the staff ace, Lester has the opportunity to lead this rotation and help the Red Sox get closer to the top spot in the AL East. With an extra wild card team this year, winning the division is more important than ever, and having an ace who can deliver will be key in gaining that number one spot.
It’s time for his mediocre performance to end; Lester will step up.