Boston Red Sox: Examining Jon Lester's April Struggles

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Boston Red Sox: Examining Jon Lester's April Struggles
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

For this Boston Red Sox fan, Opening Day was rather bittersweet. After a long winter, it was nice to see the new kids and the old ones don the uniform in a game that actually counts.

But ultimately, the Texas Rangers prevailed 9-5 after shaky outings from both Jon Lester (8.44 ERA) and Daniel Bard (54.00 ERA). At least for Bard, there's no reason to suspect anything other than a fluke outing. His velocity was fine and he was killed by a two-run double down the line by David Murphy, but on a pitch thrown a good couple of inches off the plate. Ninety-five times out of 100, Murphy isn't making contact with that pitch.

However, Lester continued his string of struggles in the month of April. After Lester arrived early to camp for the sewcond consecutive season, I hoped that 2011 would be the year he finally shook off the cobwebs, but to no avail. He gave up a career-high three home runs and failed to register a strikeout for only the second time in his career. 

To get a sense of how frustrating Lester's slow starts have been, take a look at his career splits, including yesterday's outing:

Jon Lester Career Splits (2006-2011)
  March/April Rest of Year
ERA 4.76  3.37
WHIP 1.51  1.27
HR/9 1.10  0.714
SO/9 8.0  8.42
BB/9 4.39  3.22

Opp. slash line

.269/.357/.427   .244/.313/.358

 

Across the board, Lester has been flat-out worse in April than any other month. And, every year, Lester has one great performance that turns his season around. Lester has followed this pattern so closely, it's fairly easy to pinpoint these games.

On April 29, 2008, at home against the Toronto Blue Jays, Lester went eight innings, allowing one hit, four walks and no earned runs. He had allowed either three or four earned runs in five of his first six outings, and this performance dropped his ERA over a full point. Lester never looked back, never losing a single game at home that season, finishing the year with a 3.21 ERA.

In 2009, Lester's struggles spilled over into May. He turned things around with a three-hit, one-earned run, 12-strikeout effort on May 31, followed by a complete game two-hitter with 11 strikeouts on June 6, when he took a perfect game into the seventh inning.

Last year, after struggling early on, Lester allowed no earned runs over his final two starts in April, and then proceeded to post a 1.84 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 5-0 record in May, taking home American League pitcher of the Month honors.

The worst thing about this whole situation is that I don't think Lester has a better understanding of why he struggles early than the rest of us do. He didn't sound like a man with all the answers when he told reporters, "Things really didn't go the way I wanted, obviously. Long way to go. Just go get them next time."

I have absolute faith that Lester will turn things around. His talent is undeniable, and he has favorable history on his side, but it's still painful to watch him work through the kinks.

But once he does get going, the rest of baseball better watch out.

Dan is a Boston Red Sox featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.

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