Statcast Sets Lester’s Baseline, Suggests He’s Working on Changeup
I don’t want to make too much out of one spring training start, but Jon Lester’s Statcast numbers are interesting. We were able to get data from the lefty’s March 4 start against Arizona because the Snakes have the tech installed in their spring facility. Now, as we’ve cautioned before, please don’t make too much of it.
I only point it out because 1) he had weird numbers last season and 2) I’m interested to see how he ramps up as the season progresses. I would use data from this start to essentially establish his baseline.
Lester’s velocity dropped dramatically last season. In his first two seasons with the Cubs, his fastball averaged 93 mph. Then, after a postseason in which he led the Cubs to a World Series championship, he experienced a about a 1.2 mph dip in velocity that may have resulted from residual fatigue. And when factoring the difference between PitchFX and Statcast technology, it’s possible that the true velocity dip was actually a full 2 mph.
Lester threw 21 pitches against the Diamondbacks over a week ago underneath the watchful Statcast eye. While his fastest pitch was clocked at 91.8 mph, he averaged a modest 90.3, which was approximately 3 mph slower than 2016 and 1.5 mph slower than last season. Since it was early March, Lester was probably taking it easy. After all, his age matches his jersey number at this point, and he’s coming off a decade of high-inning seasons.
Lester’s cutter, which he throws once every four pitches, was encouragingly sharp. His spin rate and arm slot produced essentially the same amount of movement as last year. As for his curve, though, the five pitches he threw were moving inward about 30 percent less than last year. He’s probably trying to find the feel for it.
But here’s the Really Interesting Part: It looks like Lester is trying to work on a changeup. Last season, the lefty ace threw it only 8 percent of the time. But in his recent spring start, 28 percent of his pitches were changeups. The highest frequency with which he threw that pitch last year was 17 percent, so this seems to be a trend worth monitoring. Maybe he has designs on throwing more this year?
While spring starts can’t be viewed as real and can include a good deal more experimentation that those in the regular season, it’s still fun and interesting to what Lester’s doing. His velocity was a little lower in that Statcast start, but his cutter looked sharp. What I find most interesting is that he was throwing a ton of changeups. Let’s see if that continues when the regular season opens in Miami.