Today’s Heroes and Goats comes with one great big honorable mention. As in the ground rules for this series, we ignore pitchers when they are hitting and hitters when they are pitching (which ends up mattering less because position players only pitch in situations with enough leverage to show up in WPA meaningfully about every dozen years or so). Yesterday, Jon Lester’s hitting would have qualified for the Superhero. If you’ve followed along closely, you might know I’m a huge Jon Lester fan. While people were dreaming on Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, on Jose Quintana (and even a few stray Tyler Chatwood thoughts) as the ace of this staff, I was still on the Lester bandwagon.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing any stones at any of those thoughts (even the Chatwood ones). I could see where any one of those guys could have taken a step forward and been the ace of this staff. Those thoughts are largely understandable as was the idea that maybe at 34 years old Jon wouldn’t be quite as sharp as he’s been in the past. Particularly coming off of a rather mundane 2017 season.
So I wanted to use this space to compliment 2018 Jon Lester. Much has been said of his 11-2 record and 2.25 ERA that have him on pace for his highest win total and lowest ERA of his career. His ERA+ stands at 185 which would be a career best. He’s allowing 7.2 hits per nine (second only to 2016), 1.0 home runs per nine (right around career average), 3.2 walks per nine (up slightly from his norm and highest since 2011) and strike outs per nine of 7.1 (lowest since his first full season in 2008). Anecdotally, Jon has been giving up a little bit of extra contact and focusing instead on the quality of the contact. He’s got some weird peripherals with 85.1% strand rate and BABIP of .246. Both of those are well separated from league average numbers. But, I will repeat what I’ve pointed out before. Those numbers aren’t all that dissimilar from his 2016 numbers, so it’s not all together impossible he could sustain this. But sustaining that while also striking out over 1.5 less batters per nine? That’s a little hazier.
But I also wanted to point out some numbers that don’t get talked about often. Jon Lester has allowed six stolen bases this year. Three runners have been caught stealing. In four seasons as a Cub, he’s allowed 44, 28, 19, and now six stolen bases. The opponent success rate has decreased in each year. Some of that is Willson Contreras’ arm, but some of that is hard work that Jon has put in. There was much consternation in 2015 as teams ran wild on Jon, but teams are rarely running on him. Jon Lester is also hitting .139 with an OPS of .361. He has a home run and seven RBI already at the all star break. The RBI are already a career high. He has five sacrifice bunts. He is on pace for tying his career high in that number. He’s slightly off of his hitting numbers from last year, but with five hits on the year is on pace for a career high of 10 hits.
Jon Lester wasn’t a good hitter when he came over and once guys got on base, they were running free and wild. But he’s worked hard, not just on his pitching, but all of his game. I tip my hat to this front office. From Jon Lester’s improvements late in his career, to Jason Heyward’s continued work ethic in the face of adversity to the continued development of young players like Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ, this team has relentlessly pursued guys who are constantly growing and striving to be better players. It is a lot of fun to watch.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 82, July 1 - Cubs score eight early, hold on for 11-10 win and series sweep (47-35)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Brandon Morrow (.195). After things got dicey in the eighth, Brandon was used to record the final four outs. His first save of longer than an inning as a Cub.
- Hero - Javier Baez (.104). Javy is back in a zone. He added three hits, two runs, and two RBI in five at bats yesterday. Included in the mix was a two run double in the second inning, one of two doubles on the day.
- Sidekick - Anthony Rizzo (.093). Anthony appears to be heating up. He had a hit and two walks, scored a run and drove in a run in his five plate appearances. The hit was an RBI double in the second.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Dillon Maples (-.153). After being yo-yo’ed to Triple-A and back, Dillon got into the game with a six run lead in the eighth. He did not lose the lead. He did however allow four hits, a walk and five runs while only recording two outs.
- Goat - Ben Zobrist (-.053). Ben did have a walk to show for his four plate appearances and scored a run. But once again the Cubs were running a merry-go-round and when there are 11 hits and six walks, someone is probably going to land here while contributing in some way.
- Kid - Willson Contreras (.050). Willson has been particularly snake bitten this year in this series. He had a three hit game, drove in a run and scored a run and lands here. Included in his three hits were an RBI single in the second and a triple in the sixth. He scored the 11th run one batter later and that ended up being huge.
WPA Play of the Game: Kyle Schwarber lead off the second inning with a single. One out later, Addison Russell walked. That brought Jon Lester to the plate with the Cubs losing 1-0. Jon had a three run homer to give the Cubs a lead they’d never surrender. (.242). They would go on to plate eight runs in the second off of old friend Lance Lynn, who like most of the Twins probably never wants to see this Cubs offense again.
*Twins Play of the Game: Mitch Garver capped the Twins comeback rally with a two-run homer-run in the top of the eighth that cut the score to 11-10. (.110)
- Superhero - Javier Baez 15.5
- Hero - Jon Lester and Pedro Strop 13
Up Next: The Cubs have their first of two off days surrounding a two-game set with the Tigers. The Cubs haven’t had an off day in a couple of weeks, so getting this one at home should be particularly sweet. I’ll have a full Heroes and Goats standings update before the first game of that Tigers series. As usual, I’ll also have a look at standings, run differential, offensive and pitching team stats and a look at the first game in the Tigers series.
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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