Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jon Lester, Walk Fiend?

Jon Lester has a plan for 2011: he told the Globe so when they asked him earlier today. It seems he wants to reduce his walk totals, because he's worried by throwing extra pitches, he's shortening his starts and wearing down the bullpen. What a hell of a guy. As the article points out, he's got a bit of a point: Lester gave up 19 more walks than he did in 2009 in the same number of starts. Maybe he is anticipating the trip for 2 outs to 3 outs a little too much.

Except that after a quick comparison of his year-over-year numbers at Baseball Reference (oh, the power of statistics), that may not be the case: even with the higher number of walks, his WHIP was lower in 2010 because he gave up 19 fewer hits and pitched about 5 more innings. He gave up 6 fewer home runs and hitters were able to turn fewer of the pitches they put into play into hits. Most tellingly of all, he had more games where he pitched 88 to 99 pitches and fewer games where he pitched 100 to 119 pitches than he did in 2009.

My guess: it's not the number of pitches that's the problem, but that Lester's changed how he challenges hitters, going for the outer areas of the plate where he's more likely to miss instead of trying to blaze down the middle. If he makes his ability to paint the corners more devastating, he'll lower his walk counts without sacrificing any of the other gains he's made in his game.