Cubs' Lester keeps his focus on getting better
So what kind of 2015 season did Jon Lester have? Actually, a good one.
Baseball's statistical revolution has taught fans to look past the win-loss record as the final word on a pitcher's performance.
Lester, the Cubs' No. 2 starter behind ace Jake Arrieta, had a record of 11-12, but his other supporting numbers were solid.
The 32-year-old lefty had an ERA of 3.34 and a tidy WHIP of 1.12. His 9.09 strikeouts per 9 innings were his best since 2010, and he had a groundball rate of 48.9 percent, a number that's always good for a pitcher who starts about half his games at Wrigley Field.
Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs in December 2014, and much was and is expected of him. Many times last year, Lester was critical of himself. He admitted it took him time to adjust to his new surroundings. Whether players admit it or not, many seem to put pressure on themselves to live up to a big contract with a new team.
Early in spring training in Mesa, Arizona, Lester revealed some of his goals for this season.
"Continue to build relationships here with these guys and get that good chemistry going," Lester said. "Just continue to get better every day whatever the task at hand is. That's just who I am. I'm critical of myself. I'm harder on myself than anybody else can be.
"I always want to pitch another inning. You always want to help your team out. You only get 30 (starts), so you want to go as deep as you can in games. The win-loss thing is something we can't control. You can't control how the other pitcher pitches. Whatever happens in that game that may turn a win into a no-decision or a no-decision into a loss, you can't control that stuff a lot of times. Sometimes it's out of your hands."
Concerns about Lester's fielding and his trouble throwing to bases continue to dog him even though he works on those skills every day. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has praised everything about Lester this spring while acknowledging the fielding problems.
"Yes, we have to work on it," Maddon said, as quoted by cubs.com. "I love that he's conceding that point, and it's something we'll work on, but more than that, last year we had to work through the same issues, and he did not have the same delivery and the ball coming out of his hand and ended up pretty darn strong. I'm not going to make any predictions right here, but I see this guy off to a good start going into the season."
Other observers like Lester, as well. According to FanGraphs: "For a fantastic pitcher, Lester surely has his warts. He's not a particularly good fielder. He simply doesn't throw to first base on pickoffs. But when it comes down to throwing the ball 60 feet and six inches, there are few better. Lester can move pitches in and out of the zone with ease regardless of count, pairs his pitches well in sequences and pitched better than his ERA gives credit for in 2015.
"Lester might come a bit cheaper than how well he pitched last year due to an 11-12 record. But make no mistake, he threw otherwise like an ace in his first season on the North Side."
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