Jon Lester finding his form for the Chicago Cubs

Jon Lester‘s first two starts in a Chicago Cubs uniform did not go particularly well. His Opening Night start against the St. Louis Cardinals saw him go only 4.1 innings, while surrendering three earned runs, before he compounded that with a six inning, six earned performance in outing no. 2 against the Cincinnati Reds.

It didn’t reach a point where people began to question the six-year, $155 million deal that the Cubs signed Lester to in the offseason, at least question it in a way that wasn’t ironic and obnoxious, but it did lead to questions about whether or not he was completely healthy. After missing a good chunk of the spring with dead arm, in addition to looking uncomfortable up on the mound at times, questions about the health of their new ace would have appeared to be legitimate.

Those initial concerns seem to have been quelled to an extent, however, as Lester has rebounded from that rough pair of outings to turn in five consecutive quality starts, with his stuff beginning to look better and better as the season has worn on.

His velocity is back where it needs to be. Not that it had fallen off too severely, but Lester has that fastball getting back up at the higher end of 92 and 93, while the cutter has gotten up from 87 in the spring back up to 89 in his most recent start against the New York Mets. In terms of usage, he’s also begun to use that curveball more. He was throwing it just 10 or 11 percent of the time in his first few starts, as he couldn’t really get a handle on that. He’s rectified that, and that usage has jumped up about five percent, back where we typically see it land.

As far as his situational usage is concerned, he isn’t doing anything unexpected. He’s using the fastball to open up at-bats, regardless of batter handedness. From there, he uses the cutter when he’s ahead in the count, particularly against left-handed hitters, where he’s thrown it 55 percent of the time when the batter has two strikes. It’s typical for him to utilize that pitch against righties in the same situation, but he’s also used the curveball against them far more, at a combined 30 percent when he’s either ahead or the batter has two strikes. It’s a simple formula, but it’s one that we’re used to seeing from him and should lead to continued success.

The fact that he’s not getting completely BABIP’d to death also helps. Opposing teams went for BABIP figures of .571 and .435 in his first two starts, respectively. Since then, his five starts have featured an opposing BABIP of (in order): .313, .385, .150, .273, .200. Those last three starts in particular are rather encouraging.

The BABIP aspect is important because Lester wasn’t struggling because he was issuing free passes at every turn. His pitch counts were run up, but he hadn’t walked more than two hitters in a game this season prior to Monday’s outing, and even that was a rough strike zone throughout the night. His hits per start, on average, have dropped from nine in those first two games, to just 5.2 in his five most recent outings. Take that for what you will, without any sort of context whatsoever.

At the end of the day, Lester’s turnaround from those first couple of starts shouldn’t surprise anyone. This was a guy coming off of a spring in which he had very little time to actually get up on the bump and face live pitching after the dead arm became an issue. Considering that, in conjunction with the overall effect that a change of scenery brings, and those early struggles shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise in any sense.

But he appears to have rectified his issues. The velocity is back up slightly to where it needs to be and the usage has sorted itself out. With teams not bloop singling him to death and a walk rate that was already extremely low, Jon Lester is demonstrating that he was going to be just fine all along.

Of course, you’d be hard-pressed to get Lester to admit that himself.

***Usage figures via BrooksBaseball.
***Statistics via FanGraphs.

Randy Holt is the managing editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.