More on Jon Lester's May

Hi. I am Patrick Sullivan (@PatrickSull). Not long ago, I wrote at Rich Lederer's Baseball Analysts and most recently Red Sox Beacon. For my debut, I have selected a fresh topic that almost anyone who thinks at all about the Red Sox has decided to address today, even on this very site. So we're off to a bang-up start.

But for realsies, I'm super-stoked to be writing here at OTM. Be nice to us please.

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Jon Lester had a rough go of it in May. Since 2008, when Jon Lester became JON LESTER, he’s only had one month where his ERA was higher than it was in May of 2011, and that was in May of 2009. In both months he gave up six home runs, or about 1/6th of his career total in just May’09 and May ’11 alone.

2009, you might remember, may have been Lester’s best season. He had a career high strikeout rate and a career low walk rate, all while pitching over 200 innings. May of 2009 turned out to be a mere bump in the road. Let’s look at some of the numbers. Digging deeper into his peripherals for May of 2011, comparing them to May 2009 and his career totals, there’s reason to think Lester should bounce right back, not the least of which is, well, he has a horrible month every season.

AVG

OBP

SLG

K/BB

K/9

BB/9

BABIP

Career

.247

.321

.370

2.47

8.4

3.4

.304

May '09

.287

.352

.455

2.93

10.4

3.6

.361

May '11

.287

.382

.476

2.29

9.8

4.3

.357

Looking at these numbers and how both of these months compare with his career figures, a couple of items stick out. One, the in-play average is up and two, the slugging numbers are WAY up. May 2011 was worse than May 2009 because Lester walked more batters. But remember, we're talking about rate stats in very small samples here.  The 4.3 BB/9 number is the result of three more walks than he had in May of 2009.

The most hopeful sign for a speedy bounce-back are the strikeouts. In two of Lester's worst months, he struck out opposing batters at a better rate than he had for his career. That signals to me that the stuff was there and that the home runs and walks can be chalked to a little command and control slippage, and nothing systemic. 

Also notable are some of the home runs themselves. There was one each to Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista.  No shame there, I say. There was also the no-balls-two-strikes gopher ball he served up to Mark Trumbo.  Nothing against Mark Trumbo, but I'm going to go ahead and call that a fluke. How many times out of 100 do you think Trumbo takes Lester yard down in the count 0 and 2?

Finally, it's worth pointing out that a walk problem and a home run problem are often one and the same. When Lester is commanding and controlling his pitches the way he can, he works ahead in the count. For his career when he's ahead in the count, opposing batters are hitting .194/.205/.270. When behind in the count, batters are hitting .299/.474/.487.  In May, he got behind too often, leading to more walks and more comfortable at bats for opposing hitters able to look for their pitch.

If the strikeouts were way off or the in-play average and HR/FB% didn't suggest some measure of luck was at play, I might be concerned. But as it stands I think we can all expect Boston's ace to bounce back before long.    

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