Lester is coming off of two straight seasons with 200+ innings and sub-3.50 ERAs. Although he started one fewer game in 2009 then in '08, Lester recorded 73 more strikeouts, jumping his K/9 from 6.5 to 10.0. Predictably, his FIP dropped almost an entire run from 4.08 to 3.13 as a result. There are a host of other factors of course, but the increased velocity he saw across the board probably helped generate more swings and misses.
During that same span, Lester continued to allow under one hit per inning and walk just under 3 per 9. Despite the dramatic increase in strikeouts, Lester's ERA actually increased a tick from 3.21 to 3.41 based mostly on an increase in his home run rate from an incredible 0.6 to a simply solid 0.9. As a lefty in Fenway, has done an admirable job of keeping the ball in the park, allowing significantly fewer long balls at home than on the road.
In order to combat the southpaw on the mound, Joe Girardi has elected to go with Marcus Thames over Brett Gardner.
Why this makes sense: The Green Monster makes it more likely that Thames' will do more damage on offense and less on defense. The small left field at Fenway means less ground for him to cover in the bottom halves of the innings and large, looming target for doubles and home runs in the tops.
Why it doesn't make sense: If anyone should be sitting against lefties (based on previous track records - which is clearly why Thames is getting the start), it should be Curtis Granderson. Gardner hasn't even had a chance to make a start against a lefty this year and Girardi is already sitting him. There is strong an argument to be made for playing both Granderson and Gardner because each can exploit the soft-throwing Victor Martinez if they get on base.
Perhaps Girardi will give Gardner some chances against lesser lefties or in parks with bigger outfields, but Thames gets his shot tonight.
While it might be advantageous to Thames, Fenway was not kind to Burnett last year as he gave up 22 runs in 12 2/3 innings over three starts. The last one of those was a 5 inning, 9 run shellacking on August 22nd that saw Burnett and Posada clash over pitch selection. Burnett was apparently intent on throwing his curveball while Posada thought the Sox hitters were waiting on it. Whether or not there was real animosity between them, Burnett made six more regular season starts and 5 in the postseason, none of which were caught by Posada.
This season, however, appears to be a different story. Burnett has been working with Posada all throughout Spring Training in an effort to get on the same page. Posada apparently endeared himself to Burnett by staying late to catch a simulated game after A.J.'s scheduled start against the Braves got rained out and together, they've been attempting to refine his changeup.
Burnett and Posada aren't the best match. Burnett's tendency to bury curveballs in the dirt doesn't mix well with Posada's 38 year old body. Apparently they have different ideas about what to throw to which hitters in certain counts. But now they Jose Molina is gone to Toronto, they've gotta do their best to figure it out how they can make their battery combination a successful one.
Jeter SSJohnson DH