Jon Lester. A name that sparks dread in Royals fans thanks to the memories of the nine losses they have endured the 13 times they’ve faced the lefty since 2006. And it’s not just that he’s beaten them so many times, it’s that he has made them look like little leaguers being toyed with in many of those games. His average game score against KC is 63, and he has posted four games with an elite-level 80 game score or better. Worst of all was the no-hitter he twirled against them in 2008 (with a game score of 94) that kicked off a 12 game losing streak. 2014 against Lester did not go well either. Due to a fluke of the schedule and Lester being traded, the Royals faced him three times in a span of just over three weeks in July and August. This was during one the hottest stretches of the Royals season, but they lost all three games to Lester. They went 16-3 against pitchers not named Lester between the first and last time they faced him.
Here are the ugly details of all 13 games:
If you want to reach for a silver lining there, the Royals have won three of the five times they’ve faced Lester in Kauffman Stadium. He has only been slightly more effective pitching at home in his career, with a 3.50/3.66 home/road ERA split. But this won’t be a normal road game. Something tells me the KC fans will be trying to get in his head the same way Pirates fans did to Johnny Cueto in their Wild Card game last year.
Here is how the usual 2014 starting nine have fared vs. Lester in their careers, sorted by most plate appearances:
Batter-pitcher stats are some of the most over-used and useless stats out there because, except in extreme situations, they are too small of a sample size to mean anything. In hopes of expanding the sample sizes, I tried to find other lefties the Royals have faced who have a similar pitch mix and velocities to Lester. Unfortunately I can only find one who I consider a close match: Reliever Jerry Blevins. But the nine Royals have only faced him for a combined 19 PAs.
Lester has a wicked pitch mix that features a 92 MPH fastball that he throws about half the time, an 88 MPH cutter thrown a little under a third of the time, and a 75 MPH bender used for around 15% of his pitches. All three are nasty and get great results, so hitters can’t sit and hope for one of his weaker pitches, because they don’t exist. It is tough to find comparable pitchers mostly because he throws his cutter more often than any other lefty. And why not, when he can make it start from well out of the strike zone before dancing over the corner at the last moment:
Still, I selected nine other current lefties I decided were the closest matches. Here is their pitch data for 2012 through a few days ago:
Like I say, most of them are really not that close, so take the following for what it is worth. But I totaled up Royals hitting results against all 10 of the above pitchers in an attempt to see how they’ve performed in their careers in a larger sample against Lesterish pitchers (sorted by OPS):
Still not huge samples. But it’s not encouraging that Billy, with the platoon advantage, has scuffled so much against these lefties, and it looks like a tough match-up for Alex, the team’s biggest offensive threat this year. Overall though, the team OPS is not too shabby.
That’s enough doom and gloom. Anything can happen in one game, and the Royals have an ace of their own to start. To end with some positive juju, here is the only homer the Royals have hit against Lester: