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For a while, it appeared as though Jon Lester left the woes from the 2012 season behind. Cruising to a 6-0 start alongside teammate Clay Buchholz, the south paw saw his ERA shrink as low as 1.43 while racking up an impressive 50 strikeouts. However, since that point, Lester has limped his way to the All-Star break, losing in four of his last six starts and surrendering four or more runs in all but one of his appearances.
In the process, he has seen his ERA and WHIP balloon up to 4.61 and 1.35, respectively.
While it seems Lester is completely off of his game, this may not necessarily be the case. With a consistent walk and strikeout rate throughout the whole season and very comparable pitch totals and total batters faced in all of his games, it seems as though Lester isn’t doing anything differently with his approach. However, there is one striking difference in the results of his pitches; home runs allowed. After yielding zero home runs through his first four starts, Lester wound up allowing just five throughout the first two months of the season. His total for June is up to eight already.
Throughout his career, Lester has been at his best when he is keeping the ball in the ballpark. In 2008 and 2010, the two seasons that the lefty has recorded personal bests in innings pitched, he has also surrendered career lows in home runs allowed and career best ERAs of 3.21 and 3.25, respectively.
The reason for the sudden outbreak of home runs allowed could lie in a couple of different areas. The first is his underwhelming heater that used to be a pitch that he could rely on as a strength. Lester’s average fastball velocity is down to 91.8 mph, its lowest point since 2008. It’s very possible that batters are capitalizing on his diminishing heater and jumping all over it on pitches where he has previously been able to overpower them.
However, another factor explaining Lester’s difficulties keeping the ball in the park could be his confidence. So far in 2013, Lester has allowed one poor start to break open a streak of several poor starts. The same types of slumping took place in the 2012 and 2011 seasons as well. While bouncing back after a poor start is something all aces do well and was something he had no trouble with in 2010, it has been something he has struggled with mightily in the past few seasons.
After suffering an apparent hip injury in Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays, Lester could potentially see some time off. This could be exactly what he needs to regain the focus he entered 2013 with and prepare to make contributions in the second half of the season.