23 February 2010
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1) Free Passes. Lester walked 24 batters and fanned 74 in April and May - good for a .324 BB/K rate. From June on he walked 40 total batters while striking out 151 - good for a .265 BB/K rate. For comparison, Roy Halladay finished with a 35/208 (.168) rate which helped him post a 2.79 ERA. Meanwhile, AJ Burnett tallied a 97/195 (.497) rate and finished with a 4.04 ERA.
Bottom Line: Walks can kill you.
2) Ding Dongs. Lester allowed 11 homers in the first two months of 2009 (65.1 IP). He only allowed 9 the rest of the season (138.1 IP). When you're giving up that many home runs, the assumption is that you aren't locating your pitches... or you are locating, but the batter knows what to expect. Homers can be a fluking thing, but Josh Beckett dealt with a similar issue in August when he coughed up 12 ding dongs in six starts, finishing the month with a 5.03 ERA. If it wasn't for August, he may have won 20 games...
3) Defense. Julio Lugo posted a -13.4 UZR rating in 2009. He made 7 errors in 97 chances while in Boston - good for a .928 fielding %. Nick Green took over and posted a modest 3.9 UZR rating in 82 games at short, but Alex Gonzalez' arrival made life on the left side of the diamond much easier to watch down the stretch. Gonzo gave the Sox a 6.7 UZR rating and made just one error while in Boston. It's not a coincidence that Lester's BABIP went down from .333 to .289 in the second half... or that Clay Buchholz potsed the same .289 BABIP while increasing his groundball rate from 47% to 54%.
Marco Scutaro (0.9 UZR) and Adrian Beltre (14.3) will be a defensive upgrade over the short stopp commitee and Mike Lowell (-10.4)... and that should help Lester like it did in the 2nd half of 2009.
I want Lester to be a 20-game winner, but I just can't bring myself to lock it in for my prediction. I hope he proves me wrong.
Bottom Line Projection: 32 GS, 210 IP, 18-7, 3.09 ERA, 1.30, 215 SO
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