Jon Lester, obviously, has issues holding runners. He does not throw over to first base, ever, due to a case of the yips or what have you. He allowed 28 stolen bases in the regular season, which was third in all of baseball. Last year he led the league. He’s allowed four stolen bases in the 2016 postseason, but if it wasn’t for some strangely conservative leads by opposing runners — including some strange attempts at gamesmanship by the Dodgers which backfired — and some great defense by David Ross and the Cubs’ middle infielders it could be more. Lester has not been burned too badly, but one could see it happening. If he’s not going to throw to first, what can he do?
My reader, Peter Grossman, obviously suffering from the same boredom I am on this offday, writes in with a suggestion:
If I understand the pythagorean theory properly, the distance from home plate to 2nd base is 127 feet and about 3 inches give or take. Let’s just call it 127 feet and take the 6 inches off of the 60 feet, 6 inches from home to the rubber. That would mean that Lester is about 67 feet away from SECOND base when he’s on the rubber. That would mean that an opposing runner would need to take a TWENTY-THREE FOOT lead in order to be equidistant to 2nd.
Even the most aggressive leads guys have been taking off of Lester have been in the 14-16 foot range, right? We know Lester can’t throw to a base. So what this email presupposes is, What if Lester didn’t have to throw to a base in order to pick someone off?
What if he just ran at the dude? Obviously he couldn’t head right for the baserunner while the runner was still standing there/looking at the mound as the runner would simply retreat to first (although, even then, I think it might scare the sh** out of the runner to see Lester running at him full speed. Like wouldn’t the runner possibly freeze up the first time? I digress)
But if Lester just learned some kind of simple spin move where he lifts his front leg but doesn’t ever move toward the plate and then spun around toward second, I think he’d have a real chance at a runner who was breaking from first base on first movement. I don’t think he’d be able to tag the guy himself necessarily. Jon Lester probably can’t run 67 feet from a relative standstill as fast as say Francisco Lindor can run 70-75 feet with a bit of a running start. But couldn’t he make it to within about 10-15 feet of the base and throw from there? Even underhanded?
My guess is that there are many people with the Cubs who are significantly more learned than I regarding these matters and if there were something that could be tried, that Lester was on board with trying, it probably has been tried. But runners don’t like being caught in rundowns and if Lester could simply execute this move once or twice, I think guys would have to think long and hard before taking those extra few feet off of first. If nothing else, it would be TREMENDOUS to see Lester barreling at some unsuspecting runner. He should probably incorporate some sort war scream . . .hmm . . . he IS likely to come out of the ‘pen in Cleveland if there’s a game 7 . . .how fitting would THAT be?!
I love this thinking. I am about 95% sure that (a) there is no way to really pull this off without it being a balk — or at least being called a balk — and (b) even if there were a way, it would take so much work to perfect it that it would distract Lester from his normal routine too greatly to be worth trying. The best way to stop stolen bases is to keep runners off the base paths in the first place, and Lester has done a pretty good job at it this year. I mean, when you never throw to first and there are still two guys who allow more stolen bases than you, that’s pretty good all things considered.
Still, I offer this because a lot of you are way smarter than I am and can think of things wrong with it that I cant or, alternatively, can think of reasons how it might work. Mostly, though, I offer it because the mental image of Jon Lester running at some dude while raising some kind of primal war cry is amazing. Even if it never happens, we’re better for having imagined it.
So thanks, Peter!