Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 6/12/13
For years, if you asked any left-handed batter in the American League who they least enjoyed facing, the answer was almost always Lester. That, of course, was due to the action on the 29-year-old’s infamous cut fastball, which Lester liked to start at a left-handed batter’s hip and move to the inside corner. Going back to Lester’s final four starts of the 2011 season, however, Lester just hasn’t been very good — nowhere near the consistency he achieved before that. But it was that long-term consistency (65-32, 3.33 ERA from 2008 through 2011) that made most people believe that 2012 was the fluke, and with a little work Lester could get back to his old form in 2013. Early in the year, Lester obliged, going 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA over his first nine starts, just once allowing more than three runs. Since that point, however, Lester has gone 0-3 with a 6.90 ERA in five starts. So, the obvious question question becomes why is Lester so bad now, when he was so good to start the year? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t very straightforward. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Buster Olney spoke with WEEI to talk Red Sox, with Lester foremost among the topics. According to Olney, internally the Red Sox are concerned with Lester’s mechanics, which was much the same problem which plagued the southpaw last year. “The Red Sox really think he is fouled up mechanically,” Olney said. “It was interesting when we had a conversation with John Farrell before we did the Sunday night game about 10 days ago. He was fairly circumspect when he was talking about [Clay] Buchholz and he was talking about Lester and he made sort of these references to Lester’s mechanics, and his concern is that he tries to draw his arm back a little bit farther and get a little bit extra and that is when he begins to lose it. “I know that going forward what their plan is with him is to get him back to doing what he was doing in spring training in the early part of this year in standing tall on the rubber and throwing downhill. But they have felt all along that he is someone who tends to drift in and out of his mechanics, and I think that is what is going on right now with him.” So, is it that simple? The answer is that mechanics are probably the best explanation for Lester’s struggles at this point. Likewise, it’s not easy to look at Lester’s numbers and pinpoint one trend or outlying statistic that would be affecting his effectiveness either way. The only corollary among Lester’s peripherals seems to be his ground ball rate, but even that isn’t a very strong trend. Over Lester’s first three starts of the season, the percentage of in-play balls on the ground was 45 percent or below. Of course, Lester’s never really been a ground-ball pitcher, either, as he’s only had one season (2010) where he had significantly more fly balls than ground balls (putting up a 1.17 ratio that year). Basically, Lester has tended to do better in games he has induced more ground balls, but that isn’t necessarily a foolproof predictor. The other downward trend for Lester has been his walk rate. Through those first nine starts, Lester had only two outings in which he walked three or more batters — in fact, in five of those games he walked one or none. In the five starts since, however, he’s walked three or more four times, including Tuesday’s seven-walk effort. But is Lester just losing control, or is he nibbling too much to compensate for something else that’s going on? This is where we return to the discussion of Lester’s mechanics. Though Olney didn’t elaborate too much on what, specifically, is wrong with Lester’s mechanics, here’s betting that it has a lot to do with his arm slot. In short, the reason that Lester was so effective for so long against left-handed batters was because of his dramatically over-the-top motion. Lester utilized the kind of ultra-textbook mechanics that every Little League coach should be teaching their players. However, last season Lester’s arm slot was clearly lower than it ever was before. What that did is flattened his pitches, and took away the natural horizontal break on his cutter, specifically, which mitigated his overall effectiveness. Looking at the image above, the picture at the left is of Lester in 2013, while the picture on the right is this year. At first it’s subtle, but once you see it you can’t un-see it — Lester’s arm slot is undoubtedly lower than it was earlier in his career. Lester actually looks to have better balance in 2013 over his center of gravity, but it’s that lean to his right in years past that allowed him to get on top of the ball so well. So, it seems that Lester’s lack of control may not be due to factors beyond his control. To the contrary, it’s a reasonable inference that he’s trying to live on the edges of the strike zone even more often, to compensate for stuff that isn’t quite what he’d like to have. All in all, Lester should still have the physical gifts to be a very good pitcher. However, far more talented pitchers than Lester have succumbed to an inability to repeat their delivery, which is what is so concerning for him. The fact that he was so good for so long begs the question if there isn’t an injury behind his dropped arm slot, but that would be pure speculation. Either way, for the Red Sox’ sake, they’d better hope that Lester can find his delivery again. The fate of 2013 may depend on it.
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Rams WR Stedman Bailey in hospital after being shot in head

Furious Brad Stevens blasts Celtics after lackluster game

Did Bryce Harper deserve the MVP?

Duke 5-star commit posts moving message after successful surgery

Ex-LSU commit still supports Les Miles

Report: Ray Lewis gave Bills pregame pep talk


Report: Marshawn Lynch out a few weeks to recover

Peyton Manning to miss at least two more weeks

Notre Dame DT: Committee 'spit in our faces' with ranking

LaRon Landry suspended indefinitely by NFL

Don’t blame Mike Pettine for benching Johnny Manziel. Blame Johnny.

Danny Ainge: Celtics’ Marcus Smart has shown ‘propensity to get injured’

Nick Young seems to take shot at Kobe Bryant

WATCH: College basketball player makes 3-pointer while wobbly from concussion

The five most overrated teams in the Week 13 coaches' poll

Clemson WR calls South Carolina fans 'rude'

Jonathan Lucroy trade market bolstered by weak catching market

Michigan State lists two starting QBs on depth chart

10 storylines for Week 13 of the college football season

LISTEN: Browns fan cries on radio while ripping Johnny Manziel

Texas A&M QB Kyle Allen says he was injured vs. Alabama

Report: Maple Leafs are no longer the NHL’s most valuable franchise

Ranking the 10 best games of 2015 college football rivalry week

Did a Chipotle employee convince Danny Ainge to trade for Isaiah Thomas?

Bud Black joins Angels organization as special assistant to GM

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The five most overrated teams in the Week 13 coaches' poll

10 storylines for Week 13 of the college football season

Ranking the 10 best games of 2015 college football rivalry week

Examining the Mavericks' hot start

Johnny Bench(ed): Manziel demoted to third string

Mike Trout, four years in

Tom Brady on ‘Rex Ryan!’ line call: It’s ‘in the playbook’

Five NFL teams trending downward

Not so fast, USC: Eagles Chip Kelly buys Philly-area home

The five best hockey fights from Week 7

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker