Monday, September 22, 2014

Lester Lights Out

Lester's been at the top of his game since arriving in Oakland (CBS)
The Oakland A's have been the subject of much derision lately because of their second half slide, falling from the top of their division to 10.5 games back of the Angels in six weeks. The A's have all but stopped hitting, and a lot of the blame for that has been laid at the feet of Billy Beane, who traded cleanup hitter and offensive force Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. Cespedes has mashed with the Sox, while Gomes's struggles have followed him out west (no homers and .540 OPS with Oakland).

But saying the trade made Oakland worse would be a fallacy. Lester and Gomes combined have given the A's 1.6 wins above replacement in their brief time with the club, while Cespedes has provided Boston with 1.2. Acknowledging that narrow difference is too negligible to say this trade came out in Oakland's favor with any certainty, at the very least it's been even.

Because while Gomes has given the A's nothing of value, Lester's stepped up to become the undisputed ace of his new team. As good as Lester was with Boston during the first half, he's been even more dominant with Oakland. In his 10 starts with the A's, all quality, he's delivered 69 and 2/3 innings (almost seven innings per turn) of 2.20 ERA-ball. Opponents have batted just /226/.272/.354 against him during that time, which explains how he's compiled a 1.06 WHIP since he came over to Oakland. He's also maintained a nifty strikeout to walk ratio of 64/16 (4/1) and posted an average GameScore of 63.

Lester's pitched as well as advertised, and the A's have gone 7-3 in his starts. It's hardly his fault that Oakland's lineup went into hibernation, or that Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray have fallen off, or that the bullpen's been an absolute mess lately. Lester can only impact the team every five days, and he's done an excellent job of putting them in position to win. He's been money down the stretch, doing everything in his power to stop Oakland's slide even as the majority of his teammates have struggled.

He's been at the center of an epic collapse before, but if it happens again he's made damn sure well that he won't be the one to blame.

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