The Evolution of Jon Lester The Hitter

Jon Lester
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 27: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs reacts in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 27, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The Record Nobody Wants

67. That’s how many at-bats it took Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester to finally record a base hit. It was an infield single off then St. Louis Cardinals pitcher John Lackey back in July of 2015. Lester’s 0-66 start is the current record for longest hit-less streak to start a career. The previous record was 0-57 set by Joey Hamilton, another pitcher, back in 1995.

Early Career 2006-14

One important thing to note is that Lester spent the first nine years of his career pitching in the American League. This meant he had a very limited number of at-bats due to the existence of the designated hitter. In those nine years he totaled just 36 at-bats, or about four a season. Knowing that it’s not hard to believe he struggled to get a single hit, seeing as he was focused on pitching and saw very minimal time in the batter’s box.

Across these hit-less nine seasons Lester had just a couple bright spots at the plate. One of them came in 2010 when he tallied his first career RBI, a sacrifice fly in a 5-1 win over the San Francisco Giants. That turned out to be the only RBI Lester would get in his entire AL career. 2010 was also the year Lester got his first and only walk in his AL career. Strikeouts were a constant problem for Lester, which really is not that surprising for a pitcher. He totaled 22 strikeouts, or 61% of his at-bats, across his first nine seasons.

However, the 2015 season was around the corner and with it would come a whole new chapter for Lester and his bat. He was going to have a chance to flip the script and try and become a threat at the plate and not such an easy out anymore.

Start of a New Era

Before the 2015 season Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs and officially moved over to the National League. The DH doesn’t exist in the NL meaning he would see the plate more than ever. In 2015 Lester had 62 at-bats which is almost twice as many as he had in his previous nine seasons. He tallied four hits but also struck out 30 times so there were definitely some growing pains.

In 2016 he improved at the plate with six hits, three of them were also doubles, and only 18 strikeouts. 2017 brought more improvements with a career high eight hits, including his first home run. It also was his best full season at the plate so far with a slash line of .148/.203/.259. Last season he continued hitting well totaling seven hits across 59 at-bats and he had a career high nine RBI.

This Season

Lester is having his hottest start at the plate so far this season with a slash line of .231/.333/.385 in 26 at-bats. He already has six hits and five RBI to go along with four walks. His best offensive performance came earlier this month at Wrigley Field against Pittsburgh when he went 2-3 with three RBI a double and a home run. Lester is now the only pitcher who has recorded a home run in each of the last three seasons.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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