There was a time when the changeup was the most effective off-speed pitch in Lester’s arsenal, but those times are gone. A 12.2% swinging-strike rate is offset by a .749 OPS to yield middling value, though a -3.5 pVAL suggests the pitch may be dovetailing into something less effective.
The curveball has always been Lester’s bread-and-butter, and it is the pitch that kept his head above water in 2019. A 15.0% swinging-strike rate and stellar 35.6% K rate helped the pitch yield his only positive pVAL (0.2) on the year.
Though Lester was never a fireballer, the significant drop in average fastball velocity — down to a career-low 90.8 mph in 2019 — has resulted in significant wOBA spikes and a cratering pVAL on a pitch that simply isn’t what it once was.
Lester’s cutter is going south fast. Despite increasing his usage, mainly due to a failing four-seamer too, it’s pVal dropped from 3.1 last season to -2.3 in 2019. It dropped below a 10% SwStr for the first time last year and lost signifcant movement.
Lester’s fastball was OK last season, despite slowly losing movement and velocity over the past three seasons. He held hitters to a .263 BAA, but an increased walk rate led to a .367 OBP. Also, he had home run issues with the pitch allowing 14 long balls. It could be another long season ahead for his heater.
The cutter was slightly better for Lester, posting a 3.1 pVal. Hitters swung and miss less often at the offering in 2018 compared to 2017, while allowing more line drives and home runs. It continues to post a double digit swinging-strike rate, but the pitch is clearly losing some of its effectiveness.
The curve didn’t find the zone often, and although it only posted a 23% outside swing rate it held a good 12.3% swinging-strike rate. Hitters managed to hit only .200 off the pitch, and was better at limiting home runs, partly thanks to nearly two added inches of vertical and horizontal movement.
Lester didn’t throw the changeup often, but it was one of his better pitches with a 4.8 pVal. He held hitters to a .193 BAA, and did a good job generating grounders. Despite a fall in swinging-strike rate, it still posted a strikeout rate above his career average.
Lester’s fifth pitch is the sinker, which hitters mashed to the tune of a .410 BAA. The loss of movement led to a ton of contact. While the majority of it was grounders, a .417 BABIP well above is career norm sealed his fate. There is some room for a rebound here.