BOSTON, MA: Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox wipes the sweat off of his face in between pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
There's very little to be happy about with Jon Lester's 2012 performance. Early on, he struggled with both his control and command, leaving pitches up, or out of the strike zone entirely. Both his walk and strikeout rates suffered for it, and Lester started to worry analysts with what turned out to be roughly 100-straight innings of poor control.
As of late, though, Lester's control is back. He's walked just 11 batters in his last 55 innings and nine starts, and against 57 strikeouts, rates that, in some ways, make him look even better than the Lester of old. The thing is, he's back in the strike zone all the time, but he's not consistently throwing good strikes, in spite of what that punch out rate might make you think. Look no further than his .377 batting average on balls in play in this stretch for some evidence that not all is right with him -- small sample size, sure, but we're also talking about over half-a-season in which Lester has been unable to command his stuff with any consistency.
Matthew Kory broke things down in the plate appearance in which he gave up a three-run homer to Kevin Youkilis, but that's the kind of thing that's been a symptom of the whole issue. With inconsistent command, Lester can go through bouts of struggles that, two years ago, or even at the beginning of 2011, you would have thought impossible for him.
Because of this, Buster Olney suggests -- admittedly as speculation -- that because of who Lester has been, and his contract going forward, the Red Sox could theoretically flip him somewhere for a significant prospect package, and then turn around to acquire a different starter at the deadline. One of the non-rental variety, so he's not suggesting this happen in order to bring Ryan Dempster to town for two months. More along the lines of Matt Garza, or Josh Johnson, whose deals all end one year before Lester's would, thanks to his team option.
It's an intriguing idea, in the sense that the Red Sox might be able to get more for Lester than they would give up for one of the others, but it's not without its faults. If Lester can get his command on track, he's a better option than either of those pitchers -- Garza because Lester is just flat-out better, and Johnson because, despite his ceiling, his arm problems make him a sketchy proposition. It all depends on what someone is willing to pay, though, and what it would cost to replace Lester in the rotation.
Should the Red Sox start making calls to see what the market for Lester would be like? Or should they leave well enough alone, and work on getting his command back in order?