Red Sox game 2 preview: Jon Lester, Jose De La Torre

Thearon W. Henderson

A changing starter and a tantalizing reliever.

The Starter

By now, Rays fans will know Jon Lester pretty well. He's a near-ace, with five legitimate pitches. Recent, overblown struggles aside, he's still tough to face.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

Ignore the fastball/sinker classifications in this graph and just look at the movement itself (the real sinkers are the ones hiding behind the changeups, not the ones up top). That's a fastball at 93 mph, a sinker at 92 mph, a very hard 90 mph cutter with two-plane motion, a changeup that the bottom falls out of, and a sweeping 1.5-7.5 curve. Five pitches, all high-quality, all distinct from each other. This you will already know.

What you may not know is that Lester has aged as you might expect a pitcher in the Rays system under the tutelage of Jim Hickey. Over the past few years, Lester has thrown his changeup more often, and his breaking ball and fastball less often. His 2013 campaign has been the first year where he actually threw more changeups than curves.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

And strange as it may seem to opposing AL East fans who unhappily associate Lester with knee-buckling breaking balls, his shift in usage appears to have been correct. Lester's once formidable curve has become a bit less effective (although it's not like it's a bad pitch or anything), and his changeup has improved to the point where it really is his best pitch.

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via www.brooksbaseball.net

Note that in these graphs, the cutter has been included in with the other fastballs. This year it's been dramatically less effective than in years past, and is bringing down the "hard stuff" average. Lester's four-seam fastball has actually gotten a few more swings and misses this season despite slightly decreased velocity.

Now I'm certainly not saying that Lester should be Danks Theoried. He has a normal left hander's split in his xFIP, and anyone who points out that lefties have posted a higher wOBA than righties against him in 2013 is being taken in by a high but small sample size HR/FB from the few unlucky (or should I say lucky?) lefties who are made to face him. Like a Rays pitcher would, he throws his changeup successfully to batters of both handedness. The proper strategy, despite these recent changes in Lester's approach, is still to stack your lineup with righties, work the count, and hope that it's your day.

One Reliever

He pitched nearly three innings last night, and will surely not be used today, but I couldn't help being fascinated by Jose De La Torre, the Boston reliever who so completely schooled Yunel Escobar.

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

This scatter plot is very unusual. His sinker sits in the low 90s and has as much sink as anyone's. His changeup (or splitter?) sits in the mid 80s and has even more sink. His slider, in the low to mid 80s looks like a 12-6 curve except for in comparison to his other pitches. I know of no pitcher in the majors with this much downward motion.

A glance at his FanGraphs page shows that Jose De La Torre has a great minor league strikeout record, but also has a long history of control problems. At 27 and pitching in the major leagues for the first time, he's no longer a hot prospect. Still, he tantalizes. If someone could teach him to limit his walks they might create a dominant closer, Rodney style. The talent is there.

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