The first four days of the 2018 MLB regular season are in the books. Only four teams remain undefeated (Chicago White Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals) while four are still looking for their first win (Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres). The early batting average leader? Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger. He is 5 for 8 (.625).
April is simultaneously the best and worst time of the year for baseball analysis. It's the best because baseball is back! Spring training is fun in its own way, but there's nothing quite like meaningful baseball. It's also the worst because everything that has happened so far has happened in a small sample size. An extremely small sample size. Tough to know what is part of a trend and what is simple randomness. That's never stopped us before though, and there's no reason it should stop us now.
Here is just one.
Jon Lester still doesn't look right
Cubs southpaw Jon Lester has been one of the most successful pitchers of his generation thanks to a special combination of stuff and command. Since about the beginning of last July, however, Lester's command has not been as excellent as usual. He pitched to a 5.17 ERA with a .278/.339/.463 opponent's batting line in his final 15 regular season starts last year. Then, in his NLCS start, Lester walked five and struck out two in 4 2/3 innings.
Whatever it was, something was off with Lester late last year. He wasn't dotting the corners, and when he missed, he missed out over the plate rather than out of the zone. Those problems continued in his 2018 Opening Day start Thursday.
Lester is 34 years old now and he has an awful lot of innings on his arm. Over 2,300 between the regular season and postseason. He averaged 204 innings per season from 2008-17. A remarkable accomplishment, that is. But it is an accomplishment that tends to come with a price once a pitcher reaches his mid-30s.
I'm not saying Lester is done as an above-average starter. Just that, given where he is at this point of his career, age-related decline has to be a concern. CC Sabathia, a similar ace-caliber workhorse lefty, started to go south at the same age a few years ago. Father Time remains undefeated. Can Lester make the necessary adjustments to remain successful as his stuff and command begin to wane? My guess is yes, though these things usually don't happen overnight.