Lester is Terrible at Containing the Running Game, and It Doesn't Seem to Matter
Jon Lester has already given up 30 stolen bases this year, eight more than his career high of 22 set in 2010. His inability to throw to first has been much maligned in the media and by fans. But how much does it matter? It turns out, not really that much. Sure, it would be better if Lester held runners closer and gave up fewer stolen bases, no one is arguing otherwise, but the facts demonstrate that the failure to contain the running game has had a negligible effect on Lester and the Cubs’ overall performance. Moreover, it appears that opposing teams are becoming too aggressive and running into outs—Lester already has more runners caught stealing (6) so far this year than all of last year (5).
The game-by-game breakdown below shows that only 5 runners the entire season who stole bases off Lester eventually scored. Most notably, Billy Hamilton has scored 3 times after stealing off Lester. But Hamilton, who leads the majors by a wide margin with 47 stolen bases already, tends to do that to everyone—and on one he stole 3B and would have scored from 2B on the following hit anyway. Charlie Blackmon, who is 4th in the majors with 27 steals, also scored following a stolen base in the game yesterday. Finally, Jason Heyward (15 stolen bases on the year) stole 2B to get himself into scoring position and later scored on July 6, though he should not have been on base anyway since he reached on an error. In other words, in 132.2 IP, Lester has given up just 4 earned runs that can be partially attributed to stolen bases—three to Hamilton and one to Blackmon, players who had a good chance of stealing those bases even if Lester were good at holding runners (and that counts the Hamilton steal of 3B where he would have scored from 2B anyway). Finally, of the 6 runners caught stealing, at least 4 likely cost the opposing teams runs, including Jimmy Rollins caught inexplicably trying to steal 3B with runners on 1st and 2nd to the end the 2nd inning on June 25th.
Overall, the effect of the running game on runs given up by Lester appears very normal. Jake Arrieta, for example, has given up 14 stolen bases on the year, including 3 in one game twice. And while I am not going to do a full breakdown of all of his games, runners who stole bases in both of those 3-stolen base games scored. Full game-by-game breakdown for Lester after the break.
Lester’s Game-by-Game Breakdown of Stolen Bases and Caught Stealing
April 5: 3 SBs, but non sored; 1 CS (with runners on 1st and 3rd to end the inning)
April 13: 1 SB, did not score
April 19: 1 SB, did not score
April 24: 3 SBs all by Billy Hamilton and he scored twice
May 1: 1 SB, did not score
May 6: 1 CS that potentially costs the opposing team a run
May 11: 1 SB, did not score
May 16: 2 SBs, did not score
May 22: 3 SBs, did not score
May 27: 0 SBs
June 3: 0 SBs
June 9: 0 SBs, 1 CS that would likely have scored
June 14: 3 SBs by Billy Hamilton again; he stole 2B and 3B but did not score, then stole 3B and scored but would have scored from 2B on the hit that followed anyway
June 20: 2 SBs, did not score
June 25: 0 SBs, 1 CS at 3B to end an inning
July 1: 1 SB, did not score
July 6: 1 SB, runner scores (Jason Heyward stole 2B to get into scoring position, though his run was unearned since he reached on a error); 2 SBs, did not score
July 11: 0 SBs
July 18: 0 SBs, 1 CS to end an inning
July 24: 2 SBs, did not score
July 29: Charlie Blackmon steals 2B and 3B and scores; 2 SBs did not score, 1 CS
UPDATED: What about leads? Runners can advance 1st to 3rd, score from 2B on a single, avoid double plays and extend innings. Perhaps stolen bases are not as harmful as this aspect of the running game? Well, I looked at every single run given up by Lester this year, earned or unearned. Below I describe all of them in a game-by-game breakdown and note the number that can be atributed to leads or base-running outside of stolen bases. I not only took into consideration the actual hit that scored the run but also how runners advanced on the base paths prior to scoring. Where advances were ambigious I consulted the video. The truth: just ONE of 54 runs can be directly attributed to baserunning advances/leads. That's right, just ONE. Matt Carpenter made Lester look silly on Opening Day and got everyone worked up about this. Yet since then it hasn't affected Lester's game. There were only 3-4 other ambiguous plays during the remainder of the season where baserunning/leads might have mattered, but the context (e.g. running on the pitch given 2 outs, very fast runner) and video (e.g. fielder bobbles the ball, shallow hit off end of the bat) revealed that baserunning/leads played no role in the run scoring.
Certainly it is possible that in innings where runs did not score there were DPs not turned because of leads or advances from 1st to 3rd that eliminated DP opportunities that might have prolonged innings, leading to higher pitch counts and quicker moves to the bullpen, but if that did happen we are talking about a very small, marginal effect on Lester and the Cubs' performance.
Runs Aided by Leads or Base Running / All Runs Lester Allowed
April 5: 1/3 Runs (Single scores runner from second but Soler bobbled twice; Wong walks and then advances to 3B on a deep single to the RCF gap then scores on a single; Carpenter had a huge lead, was dancing off first, and was on the move on a single and advanced to third, he then scored on a single)
April 13: 0/6 Runs (Triple-Double; Double-Single-FC; Floater single to LF scores Phillips from second; Single-Double-Double-Single-Groundout scores 3 no extra advances)
April 19: 0/3 Runs (Single-HR scores 2; Walk-Single then Schlitter allows inherited runner to score from second)
April 24: 0/3 Runs (Single-SB-WP-Single scores Hamilton from third; Single scores Hamilton from third after single and 2 SBs; Double-Groundout-SF)
May 1: 0/0 Runs
May 6: 0/4 Runs (Double scores runner from first but it went under Soler’s glove as he tried to cut it off; Solo HR; check-swing single to CF scores runner from second; line drive single to CF scores runner from second) Note* on the last single, it was Heyward at 2B who runs wells and the throw might have had him but was way off line
May 11: 0/3 Runs (Walk-Single-FC-Single scores runner from third; 2 solo HRs)
May 16: 0/1 Runs (Solo HR)
May 22: 0/2 Runs (Triple-Single; Solo HR)
May 27: 0/2 Runs (Single-Walk-Throwing Error in grounder scores 1; Solo HR)
June 3: 0/6 Runs (Double sores runner from second; single scores runner from third; single scores runner from third; single scores runner from second; 2 solo HRs) Note* It’s difficult to assess the runner scoring from second on the single because Lake boots it in right and has to throw to second, but runner is fast and likely would have scored anyway
June 9: 0/5 Runs (Double-PB-Single scores runner from third; Rajah Davis scores from second on slow single; Single with men on second and third scores 2; Triple-Double scores one, 2 walks later single scores runner from third) *Note: I watched the replay of the 2-run single, very slowly hit and Denorfia had to run far towards the line to get it, no chance at runner at home; they actually cut it and threw out the batter trying to reach second.
June 14: 0/1 Runs (Single scores Hamilton after Double and SB)
June 20: 0/1 Runs (Solo HR)
June 25: 0/4 Runs (Double scores runners from 2B and 3B who had reached on a singles and walks; Walk-Triple-Single scores 2)
July 1: 0/0 Runs
July 6: 0/2 (Runner on 3B due to throwing error scores on SF; single scores Heyward from 2B with 2 outs)
July 11: 0/4 Runs (Double-Triple-Single scores 2; Single w. Runner on 3B, followed by long double)
July 18: 0/0 Runs
July 24: 0/2 Runs (HBP+Single followed by long double)
July 29: 0/2 Runs (Arenado SF after Blackmon SB; Car-Go homer)
Hagsag 2 hours 49 min ago (view)
Explain how Lobaton is on this team?
Jackstraw 12 hours 12 min ago (view)
The Cubs have looked pretty April for the last week.
George Altman 13 hours 41 min ago (view)
I'm pretty sure I've seen enough of Arrieta and Davies to last me the rest of the summer.
crunch 16 hours 17 min ago (view)
e.sogard pitching...the highlight of the last 2 games, easy...
3 popouts...threw mid/high 60s batting practice lobs with some sink
he's scoreless through 2ip in his career. david ross career pitching comps...
crunch 17 hours 14 min ago (view)
same...only it's coffee...which isn't helping. yesterday's trash game got a sequel.
crunch 17 hours 16 min ago (view)
yeah...we can go ahead and send cory abbott back down...
crunch 17 hours 27 min ago (view)
hopefully the cubs can work out an extension for jason heyward to keep him around til then.
Hagsag 17 hours 27 min ago (view)
This game is making me drink a lot.
Dolorous Jon Lester 17 hours 39 min ago (view)
Just wait til the 2030 season, those kids will be entering their prime then. Look out NL Central!
crunch 18 hours 43 min ago (view)
im starting to think spending 12.6m of payroll on davies/arrietta while trading darvish away for davies and a slew of kids that dont even make the cubs top 10 prospect list wasn't a good idea.
oh yeah, cubs gave SD money in that deal, too...that's even better.
Arizona Phil 1 day 9 hours ago (view)
The Cubs have purchased the contract of RHP Justin Shafer (ex-MIA) from Kansas City (American Association) and he has been assigned to AAA Iowa.
crunch 1 day 11 hours ago (view)
he -really- needs to cue into this is a cubs broadcast and not a national/neutral broadcast.
dude...don't get excited about marlins 3-run homers.
crunch 1 day 12 hours ago (view)
lot of people wanted him when len left. he's got a long game calling history, but not too much for baseball. he did host "baseball tonight" for ESPN for a quite a while, so the game isn't a mystery to him.
i find him a bit boring/dry. some people like that he has that oldschool "announcer voice" thing going on.
Dolorous Jon Lester 1 day 13 hours ago (view)
He's uhhh.. not very good at it. Glad he wasn't the hire for the main role.
crunch 1 day 13 hours ago (view)
wow...chris myers calling the cubs game for some reason (boog out for the MIA series).
he is a marquee talent, but he's not been used to call a game as far as i know.
also, zach davies looks like a kid in pajamas in those dark blue "wrigleyville" uniforms.
crunch 2 days 12 hours ago (view)
t.williams threw a 25 pitch pen thursday