Boston Red Sox: What to Make of Jon Lester's Struggles

Douglas SiborContributor IJuly 18, 2012

It was another long night for Jon Lester, who has struggled in many of his 19 starts in 2012.
It was another long night for Jon Lester, who has struggled in many of his 19 starts in 2012.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

What is wrong with Jon Lester?

With another poor outing in last night’s 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Boston Red Sox’s “ace” left-hander’s record now stands at a sub-standard 5-7 to go with a 4.80 ERA. For someone who was supposed to lead the rotation this season, Lester has instead emerged as a liability.

Nobody seems to have the answers, including the pitcher himself. After last night’s game, he told the Boston Globe’s Michael Vega that the “frustrating nights just keep adding on.”

Compounding the frustration for Lester was serving up a key three-run home run to former teammate Kevin Youkilis, a blast that stretched the White Sox lead from 3-2 to 6-2. Watching the game, it was hard to tell if the noise emanating from the Fenway Park crowd was a call of “Youk” or simply the fans booing Lester.

While this vocal expression of displeasure on the part of the fans may be tough for him to hear, Lester has done himself no favors with his performance on the field. After two strong starts to begin the season, the left-hander has simply been unable to find a groove.

Over 31 starts last season, Lester lasted fewer than five innings just three times. In 19 starts in 2012, he’s already done it four times. He allowed more than five earned runs just twice in 2011 and he’s done it three times already this year.

Last night’s poor performance left Lester’s ERA at 4.80, the highest mark of his entire career. His 1.393 WHIP is his worst in a full season by a sizable margin.

Perhaps more disturbing is his demeanor on the mound. Normally very composed, Lester has taken to the unflattering habit of glaring at umpires and visibly chafing at questionable calls.

He bears all the signs of a man near the end of his patience as he tries to duplicate his past success.

The question then becomes what the Sox can do with him. Lester’s performance from 2008 to 2011—where he compiled a 65-32 record, 3.33 ERA and an average of 196 strikeouts per season without missing any significant time—has certainly earned him some margin for error.

For the first time in many years, Lester’s name has popped up in trade rumors. The question of whether he is truly an “ace” has never been more legitimate, and if the Sox had to part with Lester in order to acquire a front-line starter like Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke they would likely consider it.

Now, though, is the time for patience.

Lester has been bad this year, without question. He can’t seem to string together consecutive strong starts. Nevertheless, it is important to remember his value to this team.

He has been extremely durable (only one DL trip since 2006), balances the rotation due to being left-handed and with his win in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series proved that he can perform on the big stage. A bad stretch—and that’s what this is, not the beginning of a larger downfall—is not worth overreacting and shipping him out of town.

Fans and media rarely approach the struggles of a player with caution, instead preferring more reactionary measures be taken. With Lester, though, prudence must prevail. He is simply a good pitcher going through a rough patch.

For the Sox to reach their ultimate goal of the playoffs and the World Series, they will need Lester in their rotation.