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« Pitcher of the Day: Kershaw Declaws Tigers | Main | Dan Haren's Cutter »

Lester and Long Balls

Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox allowed 14 home runs so far this season in 97 1/3 innings.  He gave up the same number of homers in 208.0 IP during the 2010 season.  What changed?

The majority of home runs off Lester occur on his fastball, so this study will concentrate on that pitch.  The first thing to notice is the location of Lester's home runs:

Location of home runs off Jon Lester's fastball, 2010 and 2011.Up and in to righties is not a favorite home run spot.  This season, they're smacking balls that catch a lot of the plate.  The main reason for the shift comes from Lester himself:

Jon Lester, fastball pitch frequency, 2010 and 2011.Lester tended to work to the catcher's left hand in 2010, but in 2011 moved to the right hand.  Home runs came up and in in 2010 because that's where Lester threw the ball.  That's no longer true in 2011.

Batters are also teeing off on fastballs that don't stay up as much:

Movement of Jon Lester fastballs hit for home runs, 2010 and 2011.Although not shown here, the overall movement of Lester's fastballs hasn't changed.  Hitters are able to key on the ones that don't stay up as much, however.  "Rising" fastballs are difficult to hit for home runs, since batters get under them too much.  In 2011, batters are hitting the ones that come in flat.

That may be in part due to a drop in velocity.  In 2010, Jon averaged 93.5 MPH on his fastball, and 94.2 MPH on the home runs he allowed.  In 2011, his average fastball comes in at 92.5 MPH, 92.6 on home runs.  A batter has an extra tick to recognize the ball and line it up properly.

The biggest factor appears to be Lester's overall pitch location.  Working high to the catcher's glove hand gave batters trouble.  Now that he's working more over the center of the plate opponents can make better contact, and they can drive the ball out of the park more often.

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Reader Comments (1)

Why do pitchers lose velocity like that? Seems especially odd because Lester is not exactly an old pitcher. Is there any hope that Lester may recover that old velocity?

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris
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