Jon Lester's made a dramatic change in how he pitches this season. How much a difference has it made?

Jon Lester's made a dramatic change in how he pitches this season. How much a difference has it made?

For the first time in his 14-year career, the book on Jon Lester may be changing. 

Lester, who’ll take the mound against the Pirates on Saturday afternoon in his first start of the second half, has always heavily relied on his four-seam fastball. At the height of its usage, from 2012 through 2015, Lester was going to the four seamer over 50% of the time. 

And then something happened in 2016. Quietly, Lester began moving away from the pitch: 

(Baseball Savant)

In the course of three seasons, Lester went from throwing a four seamer basically every other pitch to barely 30% of the time. In its place? The cut fastball. It’s now his most-thrown pitch, the first time in his career that’s ever happened. 

“I think he’s just feeling it as much as anything,” Joe Maddon said. “For the most part this year, I always look for that in the game - I always want to see where that’s at. And when that’s pretty much on? He normally has a pretty good day. I think it’s something that he’s feeling, that he’s got a good feel for. I still like the curveball intermixed with that, and more changeups too I believe.”

The results, so far, are a mixed bag. On the surface, he looks like the same pitcher that he’s been over the last two or three seasons; his ERA and FIP this season are almost identical to where they were 2018. He's giving up a lot more loud contact this year, but you can blame that more on a sinker that's been particularly ineffective this season. 

Dig a little deeper, though, and stuff starts showing up. For instance, the Hard Hit % on Lester’s four-seamer has risen 13 percentage points since 2015. Per Baseball Savant, the expected batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA on his four seamer have all been significantly higher than that of his cutter, and for multiple seasons. His cutter has a better K% and BB%, too. 

“He’s just pitching, and I think there’s a lot of confidence,” Madden added. “I think it’s a combination of what he’s feeling and also he’s pretty good about reading the reports and wanting that information too. But I just think he’s feeling it right now - that’s what I’ve seen. When you see the backdoor on the righty and and then all of a sudden he saws somebody off, and then against the lefty it’s down and away - it’s really very fruitful for him. But I think it’s a matter of feel right now.” 

More news and notes from Saturday morning at Wrigley Field: 

  • There was no pregame update on Cole Hamels. On Friday, Maddon said “he's been feeling pretty well. Even prior to the break, talking to him, he was pretty optimistic. Go throw today, hopefully you say you feel good and come back tomorrow and report back.” He threw from various distances during the Cubs’ batting practice, and Maddon mentioned there could be a more in-depth update after Saturday’s game. 
  • Long considered a high-OBP guy, leadoff man Kyle Schwarber has struggled at times with that in 2019. “That’s who he is,” Maddon said. “He’s always been the guy that’s able to focus on staying in the zone and accepting his walks… Stay within your zone, stay within your lane. You stay there, and don’t get so eager that you feel like you have to try and make something happen, which happens to everybody. For him and for us, it’s just to stay located and make them get you out within the strike zone and go do what you've always done. If these guys want to walk you, just accept the walk. I want the whole lineup to feel that way.” After ending 2018 with a BB% above 15%, Schwarber is currently walking at a 12% clip this season, which would be the lowest of his career. 
  • The carousel at second base isn’t going to end any time soon. When asked if the starting position was up for grabs or the team planned on continuing the platoon of sorts, Maddon hinted at the latter. “Robel has shown that there’s some serious pop in his bat,” he said. “Addison has not hit to his capabilities, but when he’s out there you have to love the defense… When these guys don’t start, the bench is pretty firm and I like that too. You’re probably going to see a lot of what you’ve been seeing to this point, if I had to guess. If someone were to get scorching with the bat, of course that would make a difference.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Rizzo hurt as Cubs sweep Pirates

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Rizzo hurt as Cubs sweep Pirates

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss the injury to Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs offense coming alive against the Pirates and the playoff chase with 2 weeks left in the season.

01:00     How worried are you about Rizzo's injury

05:00     Wrigley's reaction to Rizzo's injury

08:00     Bryant leads the Cubs offense against the Pirates

10:00     Heyward's resurgence after moving out of leadoff spot

12:00     Nico Hoerner's looks impressive in first series at Wrigley

15:00     How do Cubs stand with 2 weeks left?

17:00     Cubs have a chance to make up ground with Cardinals playing Nationals

18:30     Brewers staying in race without Yelich

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast


Cubs put up historic numbers in three-game series against Pirates

Cubs put up historic numbers in three-game series against Pirates

Offense came in bunches this weekend at Wrigley Field. 

After scoring 17 and 14 runs on Friday and Saturday respectively, the Cubs continued their offensive barrage on Sunday. With 16 runs scored Sunday against the Pirates, the North Siders bumped their weekend total to a whopping 47 (yes, really). 

According to's Jordan Bastian, the Cubs' franchise record for most runs scored in a single three-game series is 48 (set in 1894). Despite coming one run short of tying their franchise water mark, though, the Cubs did score at a historic level:

Although their offensive outburst came against the last place Pirates, the Cubs have to be happy with their performance. Before welcoming Pittsburgh to town, the Cubs scored a combined 22 runs Monday-Thursday in their four-game series against the Padres.

Unfortunately, Sunday's series finale saw Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo go down with a nasty right ankle sprain in the third inning. The Cubs announced later in the game that X-rays didn't reveal a fracture in Rizzo's ankle. However, he'll undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the sprain.

In lighter news, the Cubs will enter Monday just two games back of the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central, as the Brewers took down St. Louis 7-6 on Sunday. The Cubs and their fans will certainly hold their breath on Monday awaiting news on Rizzo, though.

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