How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jonlester?

Well, OK, it doesn’t have quite the same ring.

The Red Sox’ problem with Lester is a different one from the Yankees’ with Mike Mussina. Mussina is in the twilight of his career; Lester’s is (hopefully) just beginning. All season, Lester has had trouble controlling the ball, saved only because he gives up a relatively low number of hits (at least, that was the formula last night). Mussina, on the other hand, hasn’t walked many, but is getting tattooed seemingly every time he takes the hill.

Another difference: Mussina has often put the Yankees into a hole from which they cannot recover. The team is 10-12 when he takes the hill. The Red Sox are somehow 5-1 in Lester starts, despite his paltry 33 percent quality-start ratio.

The solutions could be similar. The Yankees may bring up Ian Kennedy, as YF posits below. The Sox may have an answer in Clay Buchholz.

Buchholz pitched well in his big-league debut, getting the win despite allowing a fair number of hits and walks. Command has been Buchholz’s strong point and has always been Lester’s weakness. It could be that Buchholz is already where Lester is now, but with far better success against the minor-league opponents against whom Lester struggled this season.And, not to be flippant, but Buchholz isn’t recovering from cancer. A callup could allow Lester more time to regain strength in AAA or the bullpen.

Do the Sox want to do this? I don’t really think so, unless Lester simply becomes an untenable option every fifth day (though three starts with a game score of 40 or lower isn’t a good beginning). Like Kennedy, Buchholz would be thrust into the heat of a pennant race, and success stories like Papelbon’s aside, it just isn’t a good idea if you can avoid it. Likewise, being demoted at such a juncture could hurt Lester more than it would help, particularly as the minor-league season winds down. With Sept. 1 approaching, it seems safe to bet Buchholz will be the Sox’ Joba Chamberlain, providing potential ace relief out of the bullpen, ready to ride to Lester’s rescue at any moment.

Sounds good to me.

60 comments… add one
  • success stories like Papelbon’s aside, it just isn’t a good idea if you can avoid it
    I’m not trying to be a PITA about this, but can we please get corroboration on the number of pitchers who have been throttled by the pressure of a pennant race in their rookie campaign? Calvin Schiraldi? He melted down at the very end, having been excellent for a long stretch of a pennant year. And that was 20+ years ago. Who else comes to mind in recent days? It’s a rare occurrence, probably because of the fears expressed as above and therefore a small sample of test caes, but is it based on a truths or on the conservative “by-the-book” psychology of the situation?

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:22 pm
  • Ric Ankiel
    Craig Hansen?

    Nick-YF August 22, 2007, 1:29 pm
  • those are the names that immediately come to mind, although Hansen I’m not sure should be included.

    Nick-YF August 22, 2007, 1:30 pm
  • Doesn’t Ankiel fit into that category? Also am I the only one who hates that story and really doesn’t understand why everyone’s so in love with the guy?
    Hansen counts, to an extent. But that’s probably proven to be more mechanical then anything else, and a problem adjusting to the new baseball.
    Also one nit-picky thing: Can we stop saying how good Lester was before he got sick? He wasn’t good, and he wasn’t solid. It wasn’t even a promising debut. He had the same problems he does now, complete with loads of walks and a huge WHIP. Got lucky in getting out of a bunch of self-manufactured jams and everyone went all lovey-dovey for his “poise.” He was a bad pitcher then, and he hasn’t improved. I’d sure like him to, but at this point, I almost wish they’d find a way to trade him for a known quantity, because he’s never shown anything in his minor league numbers to justify the hype.

    Josh SF (D1) August 22, 2007, 1:32 pm
  • Hansen I think was overtouted – all the claims that he excelled against weak competition in college seem to be on the mark. It’s possible to blame his lack of growth on the pressures of the majors, but he hadn’t excelled in the minors like Lester, Buchholz, Hughes, and now Kennedy.
    As for Ankiel, that seems like a unique case, like Sax with the throwing, or Sasser, and not based on pennant race pressures but rather a very personal psychological idiosyncracy.

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:33 pm
  • The playoffs are right around the corner, you only need 4. But if you are asking me, I say let Lester work through it. The talent is there, just needs some refining. If you were 6 back I would say make a move, but you have some wiggle room, use it for the good of the future.

    John - YF (Trisk) August 22, 2007, 1:34 pm
  • Can we stop saying how good Lester was before he got sick?
    Fine by me. Even more succinctly, it should be “before they realized he was sick”. It is likely that he was sick before they ever diagnosed, so he may have been pitching with cancer for several weeks.

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:35 pm
  • Also, Ankiel started five games at the end of the ’99 season capably, and then an entire season at the age of 20, 30 starts, in fine form. He just doesn’t apply to this, sorry.

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:37 pm
  • Ankiel also finished second in the RoY voting in 2000.

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:39 pm
  • I think Ankiel is a whole other animal. He wasn’t just ineffective, he forgot how to pitch. I definitely don’t think that was due to his exposure to ML hitters at a young age. Something much deeper then too much too soon happened there.

    John - YF (Trisk) August 22, 2007, 1:41 pm
  • Agreed, Trisk. Ankiel’s off the list.
    I am still looking for that ruined pitcher…

    SF August 22, 2007, 1:42 pm
  • It would help Buchholz as “potential ace relief” if he threw 100 mph.
    He doesn’t.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 1:57 pm
  • 97 is pretty fast.

    LocklandSF August 22, 2007, 2:07 pm
  • Velocity doesn’t rule the day, Woosta.
    That’s simplistic and you surely know this. There are probably better ways to argue that Buchholz won’t be Joba, but just talking about velocity isn’t going to do it for me.

    SF August 22, 2007, 2:09 pm
  • We haven’t yet seen how Buck will fare in the bullpen. Chamberlain excels because his slider is insane and his fastball insaner. It is, mostly, about velocity, when comparing the two. If Joba threw 94, I highly doubt he’d have made Sheffield, Ordonez and Guillen all look like little leaguers. Maybe Buck can make them look foolish another way, but it won’t be beacuse he’s blowing well-spotted 99mph heat by them.
    Buck is more the ‘pitcher’ in that he has more than 2 good, major league pitches. Perhaps his stuff won’t translate that well to the bullpen, who knows? Let’s not dub him the next Chamberlain yet. Hell, let’s not dub Chamberlain the next anything either, dude’s only had 7 major league innings under his belt.

    Anonymous August 22, 2007, 2:41 pm
  • I’ve actually seen Buchholz hit 98, but it matters not. His off pitches are what gets him his K’s, and there are no shortage of them. Farnsworth throws a hundred too…

    Brad August 22, 2007, 2:41 pm
  • A consistent fastball in the mid 90s and a consistent change up in the high 70s, combined with a nasty curve is going to do well.

    LocklandSF August 22, 2007, 2:45 pm
  • but it won’t be beacuse he’s blowing well-spotted 99mph heat by them.
    how about the fact that none of them have ever seen him? That has to be important when we talk about young pitchers and hitters. Young bullpen guys are successful, in part, because they are unknowns. There is no scouting tape to watch, there is no history, there is nothing.
    Throwing hard means nothing if there isn’t that pitch for striks. Also, there is very, very little difference between 97 and 100. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen both, but if you can hit 97, you can hit 100. Very few can, but again, it doesn’t matter.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 2:45 pm
  • That curve is absolutely gross. I mean, it’s not Joba’s slider or anything, but it has struck out a few guys sitting on something else.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 2:46 pm
  • I was referring to Chamberlain in usage terms only, not results. Likewise, I’m not sure who all is saying Lester was so great before he got sick. He was nerve-wrackingly solid when he was first called up, then his luck ran out, then he got sick. He has yet to fulfill his promise, in my book.

    Paul SF August 22, 2007, 2:49 pm
  • I agree. I’m of the camp that it should be Buchholz instead of Lester right now. I HATE guys that walk a lot of guys and don’t strike out many. Buchholz is far better than Lester at this point in every aspect of the game.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 2:54 pm
  • “Also, there is very, very little difference between 97 and 100.”
    There is a difference, if your fastball has lots of movement like Joba’s does, or is flat, like Buchholz’s has been to be reported.
    Honestly, there’s not much difference between 90 and 100, if both are down the middle, a major league hitter is going to hit it. You really think Sheff has trouble catching up with 100mph heat? It sure looked that way, but I think it’s because Chamberlain’s fastball is not mostly flat like Buchholz’s is.

    AndrewYF August 22, 2007, 3:14 pm
  • There is a difference, if your fastball has lots of movement like Joba’s does, or is flat, like Buchholz’s has been to be reported.
    But that’s a difference in movement, not velocity. A 97mph fastball with movement is just as unhittable as a 100mph fastball with movement, same for fastballs at those speeds with no movement. I think that’s a different argument entirely.

    Paul SF August 22, 2007, 3:30 pm
  • Woosta is on this thread too? Damnit, I was hoping for INTELLIGENT conversation!
    I want to see Lester do well, but he’s not. Thankfully we’ve done OKAY despite Lester’s troubles, but that won’t always last. It’s a shame Buchholz has an innings limit for the year, or we could see him finish things out.

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 3:32 pm
  • ALso, both Joba and Clay have good movement on their fastballs. Joba has more (I wish I could say otherwise) but Clay is still not too shabby.
    Plus, Clay’s fastball is his 4th best pitch, even at 97mph with movement.

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 3:35 pm
  • Ah, yes, Apotheoses asks for an intelligent discussion then claims that a 97 mph heater with movement is a pitcher’s 4th best pitch.
    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing!

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 4:11 pm
  • And here it’s okay to question a comparison but only if you’re not too explicit about it.
    Paul sets himself up with the silliness of “it seems safe to bet Buchholz will be the Sox’ Joba Chamberlain, providing potential ace relief out of the bullpen…” and no one has yet to say how absurd that is?
    1) The Sox already have that guy. His name is Eric Gagme.
    2) Buchholz is and will be a starter. He’s too good not to be (and without the arm troubles of Paps).
    3) Chamberlain is a one-of-a-kind talent, better than Hughes even. All the folks who know say so (since that’s a legit point of argument back from the Ellsbury discussion).

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 4:17 pm
  • Woosta, it IS his 4th best pitch–his command of it isn’t nearly as good as his other weapons. Check out or the SOSH forum if you think I’m making a “claim”.
    And I do agree with you with regards to Joba–he’s the best thing to come out of the Yankee farm system since Jeter. I would LOVE to see him start sucking, but I don’t think it’s gunna happen anytime soon.

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 4:31 pm
  • wait, haven’t they both seen less than 15 innings of work?
    If we’re comparing them, we have to compare them on equal terms : minor league stats, and how the looked while starting, not in relief.
    Both are very good, and that’s all there is to it.
    Both have above average fastballs, with movement (I have no idea where you heard that Buchholz had a flat ball?)
    Both have great breaking pitches, Buchholz with a big one, Joba with a tighter one.
    Both are good problems to have, but lets let them pitch a few games before we deem them “ace releif from the pen” or “awesome ML talent” or whatever unreasonable expectations we’re putting on either of them.
    Time will tell.
    Like Damon. Time will tell.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 4:41 pm
  • Suddenly a guy who’s been in the ML for two weeks is deemed the best since Jeter from the farm? What happened to the “Phil Franchise” moniker? That’s dead now?
    Jesus, guys. Can we let them pitch for a month before we let them into the hall?

    Brad August 22, 2007, 4:43 pm
  • Amen, Brad. I’m all for a good prospect comparison, but I’m still stuck on Hughes-Buchholz. Am I just having trouble catching up, or have a couple shaky performances from the Franchise already forced Yankee fans off that ship?

    Paul SF August 22, 2007, 4:46 pm
  • Sorry, Atheose, but a 97 mph heater with movement has never been the 4th pitch a pitcher will go to.
    It’s an objective question. If he throws that pitch fewer than 20 pitches per game, that’s a legit 4th pitch.
    If he’s throwing it that infrequently, he going to get hammered in the majors. But if he possesses such a 97 mph heater, there’s no way he’s not using it more often than a 4th pitch would dictate. A 4th pitch you bring out the second or third time through the lineup.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 4:50 pm
  • and what is this “arm trouble of Paps” we keep going back to? The guy had one problem at the end of the year, and hasn’t had any problem again? Am I missing something? He does have awesome numbers this year right? Why don’t we start putting the “arm trouble” label on every pitcher in the major leagues, because if we’re going to apply such silliness, it might as well be across the board with every one of them that has had “arm trouble”.
    What’s up with Wang? Is that shoulder injury back? Mussina and that ‘ol tired arm again, huh?
    I’m not trying to start an argument over the issue but, at some point it has to be considered silly to keep talking about Paps bad arm problems when he’s done nothing but dominate this year. Again.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 4:53 pm
  • Woosta, you are right. That is his primary pitch, and it’s nasty. You don’t end up with close to 175K in a partial season not using what god-given arm speed you have and then break guys off with the hook, which is clearly awesome when mixed with the fastball…just like Joba. But again, lets let them maybe throw ten or so innings before we go crazy for either.
    They’re young, and on limits.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 4:55 pm
  • “Am I just having trouble catching up, or have a couple shaky performances from the Franchise already forced Yankee fans off that ship?”
    “Suddenly a guy who’s been in the ML for two weeks is deemed the best since Jeter from the farm? What happened to the “Phil Franchise” moniker? That’s dead now?
    Jesus, guys. Can we let them pitch for a month before we let them into the hall?”
    Maybe some of the less informed, drastic Yankees fans feel that way, but I know I certainly don’t. I think Joba and Phil will both be very good but overall the most important thing in this whole initiation process is that they grow and become better pitchers. As Yankees fans we can’t preach future, future, future and then panic when they stub their toes. Listen if we don’t make the postseason, we don’t make the postseason, but in the interim I think we are laying the foundation for a pretty bright future.

    John - YF (Trisk) August 22, 2007, 4:59 pm
  • WOW Brad you are in a foul mood today bud!!! Isn’t winning our fantasy league and first place in the AL East enough to keep you cheery?

    John - YF (Trisk) August 22, 2007, 5:00 pm
  • Well said, Trisk… ( about the kids, that is)

    Andrews August 22, 2007, 5:11 pm
  • What?
    Ha. I thought I was being the rational one here!
    Not meant to come off as foul, just realistic is all. Really, I think this is where some of the letdown comes with these guys: the insane expectations that we put on them. If you read LoHud from last night, you’ll see that they were killing Edwar Ramirez based on one outing. I just think that we should ALL calm down when it comes to guys in their first years, you know?
    On another note, I’m in SIXTH place, due in much part to the greatest team of underperformers of all TIME! ha. Although, I did have Anderson last night, so that helped! Heres to hoping that he continues his nice record agaisnt Pettittitteitte tonight.

    Brad August 22, 2007, 5:26 pm
  • Clays scouting report from SOSH wiki “He has a good low to mid 90’s 4-seam and 2-seam fastball that has touched 97. He has a plus curveball, plus change-up, and a solid slider. Either his curveball or his change-up are generally considered his best pitch, although all four are in the conversation.”
    best pitch, like atheose said. not “pitch thrown most often” or “go to pitch”

    Ric August 22, 2007, 5:36 pm
  • Brad –
    My only point on Paps’ arm troubles were why he didn’t become a starter. And if those arm troubles are in the past, then he should be a starter. Paying a Gagme 10 million a year to be an almost closer is better than paying that same $10 million to a pitcher to be an almost (5th) starter. The latter will hurt you that much more.
    Papelbon has pitched 45 innings this year. That’s just silly.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 5:38 pm
  • paps a closer becasue the six needed one and he was the best man for teh job. doctors advised last year that he start rather than close due to his arm injury from last year. the regular work is apparently better for teh shoulder. paps isnt a starter only becaseu he volunteered to close.

    Ric August 22, 2007, 5:45 pm
  • Oh, I get it, it’s not bad enough that we have to get a scouting report from SOSH – but from their wiki? So any one can go on there a tell about the time that Clay #1 burst into flames? Glad to know I can now cite Yankee blogs for objective facts. But any scouting report calling a 97 heater a 4th best pitch is not a report I need to be reading.
    As for Hughes – I think it’s simply a case of “What’s the newest toy?”. That said, the hype was overwhelming, and he’ll have to be a CY contender to live up to it (Joba now too). Me, I’m very happy with a solid 120-140 ERA+ every year (Joba and Kennedy too). That will get him plenty of wins with the Yankee offense.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 5:46 pm
  • I feel like all Lester was was a hype campaign by NESN so people would tune into his games when he finally came back. I don’t ever remember him being that good. But that’s just me.

    Kevin SF August 22, 2007, 5:49 pm
  • Ric, thanks for backing me up with a direct quote. Woosta keeps twisting things.
    Woosta, it’s easy to hypothetically say “It has never been this way, that CANT be his 4th pitch”, but we’re not talking that way here. We’re talking about what scouts have SPECIFICALLY have said, which is that his curveball, slider and changeup are all better pitches than his heat.
    Also, are you saying it’s silly that Paps has ONLY pitched 45 innings this year? Cause last time I checked having low innings on your bullpen was a GOOD thing.

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 5:50 pm
    There’s a link for you Woosta. Take 20 seconds and read the scouting report. Do you still think we’re just lying to you about his fastball being his 4th best pitch? Or do you think the Red Sox organization is lying about his arsenal in a giant conspiracy to hype him up?
    Stick to focusing on the Yankees players if you don’t do research on the Sox ones. You’ll look less stupid.

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 5:53 pm
  • The doctors told Paps he would be better off, health wise, as a starter. With a regular 4 days of rest between outings. They weren’t afraid of the number of innings, they were afraid of erratic use up to 5 times a week.
    In fact, at the end of the last season, I think the doctors actually told Theo and company that they would not give him medical clearance if he was going to the bullpen.

    LocklandSF August 22, 2007, 6:03 pm
  • Again, Atheose, give me a non-Sox blog and I might call it objective.
    Second, “4th best pitch” is very hard to believe for two reasons:
    1) He wouldn’t strike out so many, as Brad indicates, if it was really as bad as his 4th best pitch.
    2) He wouldn’t be a very good pitcher cause he’d get hammered (or moreoe than he has). If that 97 mph heater with movement was so erratic, hitters would learn to just sit on the soft stuff.
    “3rd best pitch” and I could almost believe it. But what you say strains the logic of the history of baseball.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 6:05 pm
  • Nothing in there says anything about the #1 as his 4th best pitch. I don’t know where you’re getting that from, and if it’s a wiki on the SOSH site, then shame on me for falling into that void of objectivity.
    Meanwhile, I never said anything but that Buchholz is a legit prospect. He is. Just the comparisons to Yankee prospects need to stop (thanks Paul!) most especially because the Sox prospects come out looking worse.

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 6:09 pm
  • I could see the Sox giving Buchholz a few spot starts toward the end of the season if the lead is solid, but as shaky as Lester has been, Buchholz is almost completely untested at MLB levels.
    The Sox are holding steady at 5 games — a lead that, even if it remains unchanged, statistically gets larger as the number of games to play gets smaller. Being up by 5 now is roughly akin to being up by 10 at the end of June (though I’d rather it were larger). No team has a bigger first-place edge.
    If the Sox look like they can clinch early, it would be great to give some of the big arms some rest and give Buchholz some more exposure. But unless Lester completely melts down (as opposed to just partially melting down) I suspect he’ll be kept around.
    I *would* like to see Lopez back on the roster.

    Hudson August 22, 2007, 6:11 pm
  • i think atheose may have exageratted 4th best pitch but theres no doubt that he uses his offspeed stuff as his outpitch. these sources are adequate for a proper scouting report. they are reputable.

    Ric August 22, 2007, 6:12 pm
  • (Note: The Sox lead is of course 6 games, but for the sake of argument 5 is about where it’s been holding out…) Here’s hoping they pad that to 7 with the Yankees going against Lackey and the Sox going against the Satanfish.

    Hudson August 22, 2007, 6:14 pm
  • prior to this season baseball america had buchholz as the nineteenth-ranked pitching prospect in all of baseball. Because several of the top 19 have now cracked the majors (Linecum, Dice-K, Garza) and because of Clay’s performance this year I imagine he’d be ranked in the top few of all of organized ball. Baseball America is not, at last check, a Sox wiki.

    SF August 22, 2007, 6:21 pm
  • Woosta, Sox is cited by dozens of sports papers and agencies, and receives input and information from the Red Sox scouts themselves. Who would know Buchholz’ pitches better than the scouts?

    Atheose August 22, 2007, 6:22 pm
  • In fact, SF, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Analysts have both said Buchholz is now likely THE top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

    Paul SF August 22, 2007, 6:34 pm
  • “Meanwhile, I never said anything but that Buchholz is a legit prospect. He is. Just the comparisons to Yankee prospects need to stop (thanks Paul!) most especially because the Sox prospects come out looking worse.”

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 6:37 pm
  • And, yes, SF, sure does love his BA list. Yup, Buchholz ranked #51 (clever cherry picking way of citing that – kudos!).
    Meanwhile the folly of those lists:
    Humberto Sanchez was at #57 (remember him!) and
    Michael Bowden was at #81 while Daniel Bard was at #83 – How are they looking again?

    Woosta YF August 22, 2007, 6:45 pm
  • Eh. Baseball Prospectus and those sites also rated Homer Bailey over Hughes because Bailey had more ‘electric stuff’. It’s subjective, and I’d rate Joba and Buch as equals, Joba has the electric stuff and (other than his slider, which is great) reasonable offspeed pitches, Buchholz has a flat, slightly less fast fastball with a great curve and better secondary stuff.

    AndrewYF August 22, 2007, 6:54 pm
  • Speaking of cherry picking, that #51 ranking that Woosta just cited has this accompanying text says “His fastball hit 97 mph at the end of last season, and at times it’s his fourth-best pitch.”
    So I guess Atheose wins.

    Tyrel SF August 22, 2007, 7:54 pm
  • I guess hitters are learning to lay off that “4th pitch” heater then (Now there’s no surprise where that myth came from – from the folks that ranked Humberto Sanchez, Michael Bowden, and Daniel Bard in the top 100 “prospects”!). He got banged good in the first three innings tonight (3 ER) then got pulled. Maybe his similarity comp from is prophetic? Cole Hamels got DLed today.

    Wooster YF August 22, 2007, 8:22 pm
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