Jon Lester is a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. He throws baseballs for a living. On Thursday night in Game 6 of the World Series, in front of over 40,000 people in Cleveland’s stadium and millions more watching on television, Lester threw a ball to Jose Ramirez that bounced in front of home plate.
There’s no way to know exactly what Lester was trying to do by bouncing that throw past home plate, but we can make some guesses based on his previous pitching performance and those of other players in similar situations.
Why can’t Jon Lester throw to first?
Lester’s mistake was to try to make a perfect throw. This is not advisable for several reasons. First, Lester had the time and place to simply lob the ball over the catcher’s head rather than throwing it with all his might. Second, even if he tried for a perfect throw, it wouldn’t be possible since baseballs are designed to bounce off of home plate when thrown underhand or sidearm (the pitching motion used by most pitchers).
The ball needs to bounce before reaching the catcher because of the pitcher’s follow-through on his release. If he releases straight toward home plate, as you do when throwing a football or basketball, the ball will bounce up into your face. By releasing at an angle that goes behind the pitcher, the ball will bounce off to the side. For overhead throws like at cricket or volleyball where you want to throw straight into home plate, you need a special handgrip that allows you to impart backspin on the ball so it reaches its target rather than bouncing up in your face.
Throwing sidearm vs overhand
Most pitchers use their body weight for power when throwing pitches, pushing forward with one foot and rotating their trunk around their leg while releasing the ball with their arm.
They usually release overhanded (like throwing a basketball) because they are trying to throw strikes. Throwing sidearm is common in pick-off attempts and attempting to get batters out stealing second base.
Since was not trying to get an out, Lester could have released this throw sidearmed.
A slider has a backspin on it when thrown overhand so the ball dives downward at the batter. If thrown sidearm, the ball will move horizontally or even upward in a curveball or slurve due to forward spin.
In his entire 10-year career, he has thrown to first base only four other times.
His batting average is only .097, but that’s good enough for 4th best on the 2016 Chicago Cubs roster.
In Game 6, Lester was 2-for-2 with a homer and a double while Javier Baez was 0-for-4.
So far in the playoffs, he has an awful batting average of .000, which means he did not get a single hit in his seven at-bats this postseason.
He is one of the most consistent pitchers when it comes to throwing strikes since 2012 when he had just six wild pitches in 196 innings pitched (and none came in September/October). He also has the lowest number of hit batters in any given year: just four during all of 2016. With 97 wins already under his belt, we can bet we will see many more in the next years.
The last time he threw to first was September 27th, 2015 against the Cleveland Indians.
He was 0-2 but he rolled a ground ball to third base for an out. The Cubs won the game 5-0. They are now up 3-2 in the World Series so Lester might want to keep his arm strong and try throwing to first once more before it’s all said and done.
Jon’s throwing motion may have many purposes, but it is especially useful in two situations. If he needs to throw to first base for any reason, his normal throwing motion will get the job done just fine. Throwing sidearm or underhanded might prove more effective if he finds himself in a pickle without time to wind up for an overhand release, but it’s not recommended if he wants accuracy and power with his throws. Jon Lester may be one of the most composed athletes to ever play pro sports, but that doesn’t mean he can’t let loose to deliver an epic speech every once in a while!