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Scouting Pitchers: Jon Lester

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 5/12/08

Spanning the globe to bring you in-depth pitching information, let's look at Lester, the courageous 24-year-old who's leading the defending World Champions in innings.

Lester has surmounted non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of cancer he was diagnosed with in August 2006. Lester is now an advocate for raising money to combat cancer through his website the Lester Project, which is a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund. As of October 2007, the Lester Fund had raised $56,000.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception. Please feel free to post your thoughts below on the pitcher or the column.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

Boston took the left-handed Lester (6-2, 190, Born 1/7/1984) with a second-round pick of the 2002 draft from a Washington state high school. He spent 2003 in the Low-A Sally League, going 6-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 106 innings. Elbow tendinitis limited him to 91 innings in Class A in 2004. Al Nipper overhauled Lester's delivery that year, as Boston.com reported in 2006, resulting in better velocity, control, and a cut fastball.

Lester dominated Double-A in 2005 as he led the Eastern League in ERA (2.61) and strikeouts (163). Texas sought him in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes before the 2004 season, and the Marlins wanted him in the Josh Beckett deal before 2006, but the Red Sox refused.

Lester was hit hard in spring training in 2006 and spent two months in Triple-A, going 3-4, 2.70 in 11 starts. He contributed a blog on his development to Baseball America.com. Called up on June 10th, Lester allowed three earned runs or less in his first eight starts before struggling for a month. A car accident on August 25, 2006 led to further medical tests and the lymphoma diagnosis. ESPN.com reported in December 2006 that Papelbon was cancer-free and ready for spring training. He required maintenance chemo treatments every 3-4 months in 2007.

Lester worked his way back slowly in 2007, spending most of the first half in Triple-A. He was recalled on July 23 and pitched some good games down the stretch, finishing 4-0, 4.57 in 63 innings. Lester's shining moment came in Game 4 of the World Series as he shut out the Rockies for 5.2 innings to nail down the championship. His victory inspired Fox News' Don Fair, also a cancer survivor.

Jon Lester: (G/F 1.77)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		50
Cut fastball	55		15
Curveball	60		20
Slider		N/A
Changeup	55		15
Control	55
Delivery	55
Composure	55

Lester throws an 89-93 MPH four-seam fastball that touches 94 and an 85-89 MPH cutter. He has average movement on his 81-84 MPH changeup, and his tight 70-75 MPH curveball is a good strikeout pitch. Lester commands his curve well and can repeatedly throw it for strikes. He turns to his curve when behind in the count more often than his change, as too often he leaves his changeup up.

Lester likes to throw inside to right-handers, and Sox pitching coach John Farrell has instructed him to work outside more. Farrell is also working with Lester to increase his efficiency. Lester has averaged 17.7 pitches per inning - far too many - in his career. He pitches like a strikeout pitcher, and has fanned 139 in his first 195 innings, but doesn't have one dominating pitch.

Lester has struggled with his command of his fastball this year, leading to 27 walks in his nine starts. 22 of those have been to right-handed batters, against just 16 strikeouts. It appears Lester is struggling with his cutter. Boring this in on hitters has helped him raise his G/F ratio from previous years, but he's still working on commanding it. For some reason, he's also missing with a lot of first-pitch four-seamers. When Lester has fallen behind 1-0, he has issued 22 of his 27 walks, so getting ahead is crucial for him.

Lester's motion is fairly smooth, although it's not free and easy. His delivery is coiled but economical. He fields his position well and has a decent pickoff move. Lester can tip his changeup by slowing his arm speed. He is obviously mentally tough and poised, although he does stare down an umpire now and then.

Lester is 13-4 in his career, and stands to win a lot more games on the high-powered Red Sox. It would help him to be more consistently aggressive, keep the ball down and trust his defense more.

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Radar Love - May fastball readings:

94-96: Brad Lidge in saving his 10th game against Atlanta on May 13th.
90-94: Clay Buchholz in Minneapolis on May 12th. Buchholz was consistently at 90-94: Nick Adenhart against the White Sox on May 12th.
89-95: Johnny Cueto in New York on May 11th.
87-93: Scott Kazmir against the Angels on May 10th. Kazmir picked up velocity as the game went on.
87-90: Tim Hudson in Pittsburgh on May 12th.

Next week: NL East: Brett Myers

 

Article first appeared 5/16/08