Jon Lester is one of the best pitchers in the game, even if he can’t make a throw to 1st base.
(Photo courtesy of Arturo Pardavila)
Maybe I haven’t seen enough of Jon Lester since his move to the National League, but back when he was with the Red Sox, I remember him being able to make throws over to 1st base when attempting a pick-off. This goes to show how little I’ve watched of the National League this season, but the first time I noticed Lester’s inability and unwillingness to throw over to 1st was in the NLCS against the Dodgers. How is it that more teams aren’t running like crazy on Lester and taking advantage of his not being able to make a pick-off attempt?
The video below is from the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the World Series between the Cubs and Indians where Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is on 1st, and Lester’s on the mound. Lindor had already stole 2nd base earlier in the game (1st inning), and was looking to steal on Lester yet again here in the 3rd. Lindor, anticipating Lester’s first movement to be to home, misjudged as Lester actually decides to step off the mound to keep Lindor honest. As you’ll see, when Lester steps off, Lindor makes a move to 2nd and is out in no-mans-land (a good 25 ft from 1st), but Lester, unable to make the throw over, can do nothing but watch as Lindor scampers back to 1st base. Apparently this sort of thing is no big deal for Lester, as he still put up some incredible numbers this season (some of the best in the National League), but I can’t help but wonder how this glitch in his game may come back to bite him and the Cubs when playing against an aggressive base running team like the Indians.
I’ve seen pitchers unable to throw strikes before, take Rick Ankiel of the St.Louis Cardinals who in his third season as a starting pitcher lost all control of his fastball and couldn’t throw it anywhere near the strike zone. But never can I recall a pitcher unable to make a pick-off attempt to 1st. I’m no psychologist, and perhaps it’s not even worth messing with at this point as it might just make things worse for Lester, but why not take a page from the movie ‘Major League 2’ and at least try something similar to what Jake Taylor did with young catcher Rube Baker to help him with his throws back to the pitcher? How about in practice, dressing Anthony Rizzo in a complete set of catchers equipment and have him crouch over first base, then have Lester practice his pick-offs to a 1st basemen dressed as a catcher. I’m a lefty myself and I hated playing catch with other lefties growing up, it’s just so weird throwing to someone who has their glove on the right hand. Perhaps Lester doesn’t feel comfortable throwing the ball to fellow lefty Rizzo…so maybe instead of holding his glove hand out as a target, Rizzo should raise his left hand and use that as the target, which would give Lester the impression of a righty on 1st base.
In effort to try and get into Lester’s head, back in the NLCS, the Dodgers stated prior to his Game 5 start, that they were going to be running and bunting on Lester all day long. Because not only can Lester not throw to 1st on pick-offs, he also has difficulty throwing to 1st base period, and that includes plays where he has to field grounders. What was even more sad than Lester’s inability to make pick-off attempts against the Dodgers, was L.A.’s unwillingness to run on Lester after all their big talk of taking advantage of his weakness.
Jon Lester was 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 2016, so clearly this little flaw of his on pick-offs isn’t as damaging to his game as one would think. But unlike the Dodgers, Cleveland is a team that won’t hesitate to run on any pitcher, let alone one who can’t even make a pick-off attempt. If ever there was a team that can make Lester pay dearly for his inability to throw to 1st, it’s Terry Francona and this Indians squad. And in these tight post-season games, a pitcher incapable of holding runners on 1st might be the difference between winning and losing an all too important game in the World Series.