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¡Ay, Caramba! Boston Red Sox Just Cannot Give Up on Jon Lester Quite Yet

But They Will Need to Soon If He Continues as Is

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Another start and another loss.

Jon Lester pitched well against the Oakland A's on July 13 -- just not well enough. He lasted 6.1 innings, threw 100 pitches (63 for strikes), walked three and struck out four. Not exactly an ace-like performance, but his own batters were outmatched by Oakland starter A.J. Griffin and his now-3.68 ERA. Jon Lester's ERA now sits at a very non-ace-like 4.58 after 20 starts.

The real ace of this Red Sox's staff, Clay Buchholz, is scheduled to return after the All-Star break. At that point, a reshuffling of the starting rotation that reflects performance through 97 games should be in order. If that in fact does occur, Jon Lester would be the fifth starter on this team, at best, and rightly so. In no way does he deserve to be any higher than that.

So, whatever happened to the Jon Lester of 2009, 2010 and 2011? One has to wonder. His velocity seems to be right where it was. Yet, there are some very obvious statistical differences:

1. Batters have simply hit him more since 2011, and hit him harder.

- Batting average against 2009-2011(.232) / 2012 (.273)/ 2013 (.260)

- Batters' average SLG % 2009-2011 (.355)/ 2012 SLG % (.442)/ 2013 SLG % (.416)

2. He is throwing more pitches per outing. He has consistently averaged about 6.1 IP per start since 2009, but his WHIP in 2013 is at 1.37. From 2009-2011 his WHIP averaged 1.23. The result is that he is simply throwing more pitches to get through those same 6.1 innings.

- 16. 5 P/IP avg. (2009-2011)/ 16.7 (2012)/ 17 (2013)

Maybe this difference seems like peanuts, but if Jon Lester makes 32 starts in 2013 (his average from 2009-2010), he is on pace to throw 3,419 pitches over 201 innings.

- In 2009, he needed 3400 pitches over 203.1 innings.

- In 2010, he needed 3357 pitches over 208 innings.

More pitches means less efficiency, more wear and tear, and a tired Jon Lester when it comes to the 2013 playoffs. Making him the No. 5 starter, with a start or two skipped, would give him the rest he might need should he improve and be part of a postseason pitching staff. Those starts could quite easily be picked up by one of many capable minor league starters.

However, if the playoffs started tomorrow, in no way would Jon Lester be a choice for the top three or four starters. Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront would be the top three starters. Ryan Dempster would have to get the nod over Lester as a No. 4, given the performances so far this season. Where would Jon Lester fit in? He very well might not fit in on any playoff roster of the Red Sox in 2013. Hard to believe but true.

Until Clay Buchholz returns, it appears that the Red Sox will continue to require Jon Lester's services. Perhaps the Red Sox will find a gem from their minor league system to replace him. Perhaps Jon Lester will improve. Perhaps.

For now, the ace's ERA forces the team to score at least 5 runs on average to win. Often that is against another team's top pitcher. Those numbers don't match. In August and September against division foes, the Red Sox need someone that just simply gives them a better chance to win.

Sorry, Jon.

Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years.

You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.

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