The limit for Lester?

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This entry was posted on 9/26/2008 1:37 AM and is filed under uncategorized.

It's been a season of breakthroughs and discovery for Jon Lester, who has backed up the early claims by many -- not me because I was way behind the curve when it came to just how good he can be and just how hard he can throw his fastball -- that he was among the best left-handed starters in the Major Leagues.'s Alex Speier wrote a great story about Lester leaning on Cleveland Indians coach Scott Radinsky for information after the veteran lefty reliever similarly defeated cancer before returning to pitch, and everyone has seen the Sox lefty return to full strength en route to a 16-6 and 3.21 ERA in 33 starts this season.

One minor note of concern is the 210 innings that Lester has totalled heading into the postseason after never pitching more than 153 2/3 in a professional season, but Sox pitching coach John Farrell addressed those concerns after Lester's 16th win last night. There's no doubt that Lester is big and strong with a kinetically clean delivery, but a jump up to 230-240 total innings (a distinct possibility if the Sox make it back to the World Series) this season is quite a workload leap. Here are some thoughts from the Sox pitching guru about Lester going forward.

What was it about Lester that gave the organization the freedom to pitch as many innings as he’s thrown this year when he had never pitched more than 153 2/3 in his professional career before?
The thing that he’s really improved upon this year is his pitches per inning. A year ago and during that month of April this season there were a lot of times when he would get into that fifth or sixth inning and he would be at 95 or 105 pitches.

Because he’s able to get some quick out and because he’s able to use that sinker and get the ball on the ground, we still keep an eye on the number of pitches that he’s thrown, but what he’s been able to do is spread those pitches out and be more efficient. That’s why you see the innings increase as much as they have.

Is the fact that there has been a greater frequency of lower stress level innings among those 210 innings been a big factor as well?
What we’re seeing now is the rare inning we’re he’s had to throw 25 or 30 pitches and really dig deep down because he’s in a jam. He’s had those sprinkled in throughout the season, but nowhere near the number that he had experienced last season where it seemed like at least once a game – or maybe a couple of times in a game – he would have to pitch in a bases loaded jam and get one or two outs and that’s where the pitches would get really taxing.

He has not only gained in efficiency, but his delivery is much better and more consistent, which lends into the efficiency that we’ve mentioned.

Do the size and the frame of the pitcher and the differences between him and maybe a smaller-framed “max effort” pitcher play into the innings jump as well?
It does and we don’t just take a subjective view on this because he gets checked from a strength-wise standpoint like all of our pitchers do, but you take into account physical size and strength as well as the fact that he’s gained weight as the season has gone on.

He actually weighs 230 pounds now and coming into spring training he weighed 220 or 222, and you factor that in combination with his arm action. It’s a very clean arm action.

He distributes the stress loads over the course of his entire body rather than in violent action as you mentioned. We’ve been keeping a close eye because we know we’re in uncharted waters here in terms of total innings pitched, and when you jump by more than 30 percent you have to take that into account and very careful.

Because it’s not just this year we’re concerned about, but also looking forward to ’09 and beyond, but he’s a much safer risk to let him do this because of everything we’ve talked about.

How proud are you as a pitching coach of what he’s been able to do knowing all that he's been through as you’ve been with him the last two seasons?
I think everyone in this organization takes a lot of pride and is really personally happy for him and what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s obviously come through a bumpy road, but you see the diligence and the work ethic and he really just has a genuine interest in learning.
He’s really just a very humble guy. There isn’t a lot of braggadocio and he doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself, and he’s a guy you can very easily root for. I think many people that have come across him along the way share that very same pride.


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