Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Best Boston Lefty Ever?

It's more than a little early to start that particular bar argument about Jon Lester. But after last night, a strong six-inning outing that led Boston to a crucial 8-4 win over Tampa on the road, we should at least consider the possibility that he may be the answer to that question in 10 years or so.

Let's talk about last night first. Lester pitched a strong six-innings; he allowed just two runs on seven hits and struck out nine batters. He picked up his 11th win of the season and is now unbeaten in his last eight starts. Those nine strikeouts also gives Lester 196 strikeouts on the year, third best in the AL. Lester has very quietly posted some solid numbers this year. He is eighth in the AL in complete games (2), ninth in ERA (3.58) and 11th in innings pitched (173.2) and WHIP (1.24). Also keep in mind he is just 25 and not even in his prime years yet.

And that brings us to this question; where does Jon Lester fit in the pantheon of Boston left-handers? The list of notable Boston lefties is a short one: Ray Collins, Babe Ruth, Dutch Leonard, Herb Pennock, Lefty Grove, Mel Parnell, Bruce Hurst and Lester. That's about it, and apologies if I missed anyone. Had Ruth stayed a pitcher and in Boston, he'd likely have been the best lefty ever. But I think right now, if you are looking at a combo of longevity and stats, it's Mel Parnell. Over his 10 season career, Parnell went 123-75 with a 3.50 ERA. He threw 1752.2 innings and struck out 732 batters.

Last night Jon Lester broke the record for most strikeouts in a season by a Boston left-handed pitcher. The previous mark was 190 set by Bruce Hurst in 1987. Lester's current total is also the 25th best single season mark in Boston history. 25 more strikeouts in the regular season (a very attainable goal) would give Lester 221 on the season. That would be the 15th best season ever and the highest single-season total since Pedro had 227 strikeouts in 2004.

Lester currently has the second-best won/loss percentage in Boston history (.717), trailing only Pedro's mark of .760. Lester's current career K/9 ratio is 7.802, the best of any lefty in Boston history. His current career K/BB ratio is 2.349, also the best of any lefty in Boston history. Lester is currently 38-15 lifetime and is only 25 years old. Parnell didn't start his career until he was 25. And if you take into account that Lester's 162-game average (an admittedly rough metric at best) for wins and losses is 15-6, the odds are high he will pass Parnell's win total within the next six-seven years. And Lester will still be in his early 30s. So while he isn't the best lefty yet...he is definitely on the road to being just that. And we are fortunate enough to watch that career unfold before our eyes.

But back to last night's game. Lester came out after six due to a sore groin (nothing serious, thank God). So Billy Wagner came out in the seventh...and closed the Rays down. He needed all of 13 pitches to strike out two and put the side down in order. It's looking more and more likely I'll have to eat my words on Wagner.

But then it all unraveled in the eighth. Oki came out and couldn't get a single batter out. It went bunt, walk, single, single, single and suddenly the score was 7-4 and the bases were loaded. At which point Tito made a ballsy call.

I have said before that I don't believe in using your closer in the eighth and the ninth. Maybe for the last out of the eighth, but never never for six outs. Well, Tito called on Papelbon to do just that. And by God Papelbon came through like a champ. Though not without a little drama. Bartlett hit a shot to center that looked like it was a run-scorer for sure. But Ellsbury made an amazing diving catch (his second of the night) to prevent the runners from advancing. And then Papelbon battled Crawford until he fouled out to left. And that was the Rays' last gasp; they went down meekly in the ninth and Papelbon picked up his 33rd save of the season. It was a great change of pace from the earlier Sox-Rays tilts where Tampa always comes back late.

The Boston bats came alive last night, something that isn't always guaranteed against the Rays. In addition to his great defense, Ellsbury went 2-6 and had two RBI. Youk went 2-4, including his 23rd homer of the season, scored two runs and grabbed two RBI as well. Jason Bay collected his 30th homer of the year, a solo shot that gave him 93 RBI on the year. Only seven left to hit his 30/100 standard. Mike Lowell went 2-3 with a pair of runs scored and a RBI, and J.D. went 1-4 but hit a two-run shot in the fourth to give Boston their first lead of the night. That was Drew's 19th homer of the year and matched his 2008 total. A low bar, obviously, but it's a good thing for Boston. If Drew can up his production and not get injured (again) he makes the whole lineup more dangerous.

It was a big win last night for the Sox. Taking at least two of three from the Rays would be a big victory for the Sox, and tonight they have their ace taking the mound. Beckett goes up against Matt Garza. Garza is having a bit of a rough year, going 7-9 with a 3.95 ERA. But he plays the Sox well; he's faced Boston four times this year and is 2-0 in four starts. The Sox haven't scored more than three runs off of Garza in any of those four starts. Beckett has been shaky in his last three starts, giving up seven, eight and five earned runs in those three starts. But statistically over his career, August is Beckett's worst month. Lifetime he is 14-16 in August with a 4.43 ERA. Good news for Sox fans; in September he is 19-9 with a 2.77 ERA. And what month is it on the calendar now?


Aviv said...

C'mon Dave! Don't get fooled on Wagner. It's not that he can't pitch well or close out games. It's that he chokes in the big spot and playoffs ... and he hasn't been in any really big spots, yet. Jury is still out.

Dave said...

That may be true. But compared to the Gagne Experiment, Wagner is already a raging success.

Aviv said...

Man, Red Sox Nation is being set up nicely by Wagner for a fall.