When veteran left-handed pitcher Jon Lester signed a 6-year, $155-million deal with the Chicago Cubs in the fall of 2014, the expectation was that he would be the ace of the pitching staff. By that standard, Lester’s 2015 season was disappointing (ERA+ of 114). In 2016, however, at the age of 32, Lester was very much an ace, putting up a career-best ERA of 2.44 (ERA+ of 164) en route to a 19-5 record. Lester has been a workhorse throughout his career, topping 200 innings pitched for eight of the past nine years (and only barely missing in 2011, when he pitched 191 2/3 innings). He has continued his excellence into the 2016 post-season, putting up a microscopic 0.86 ERA over 21 innings in three games, and was named co-MVP of the NLCS.
Pitch usage and trends: Lester is mainly a fastball/cutter pitcher. The vast majority of his fastballs are of the four-seam variety, but he also occasionally (3.0% of pitches) throws a two-seam fastball, or sinker, with slightly lower velocity, more horizontal movement, and less vertical movement than his four-seam. (Since a fastball’s vertical movement is upward, relative to the path it would take under the influence of gravity alone, the reduced vertical movement on the sinker makes it seem to drop compared to its expected path.) He also throws a curve (12.7%) and a rare changeup (5.4%). His velocity is just about average for a left-handed pitcher, with his four-seam fastball averaging 92.6 mph; unsurprisingly, he maintained his velocity very well over the course of the season
Lester throws his cutter more to left-handed batters than to righties, making up the difference with more curves and changeups to RHB. He mainly uses his curve when ahead in the count, preferring his four-seam fastball when behind. He is also more likely to throw his sinker when behind in the count (5.6% vs 2.2%), though it is still a rare pitch, even in those situations:
Pitch value: No less than four of Lester’s five pitch types are well above league average in terms of total bases per 100 pitches thrown, with only his rare changeup being about average. He is also about average at drawing strikes, with only his sinker being significantly worse than league average:
Pitch location: The charts below show the typical location of Lester’s pitches. He typically throws his fastball outside to both left- and right-handed batters. His cutter comes inside to righties, outside to lefties. His curve often drops just below the the strike zone, especially to left-handed batters, while his changeup is more likely to just catch the bottom of the zone: