Long without a Major League hit, Cubs lefty now owns season's hardest-struck ball among pitchers
By Andrew Simon
The Cubs managed a mere three hits on Sunday afternoon, in a 2-0 loss to the Rockies at Wrigley Field, but one of those knocks was a notable one.
Its source would be a surprise to many. Pitcher Jon Lester, once known in part for his inability to collect his first career hit, blistered a double to the right-center field wall off Colorado starter Tyler Chatwood in the sixth inning. Statcast™ measured the two-bagger's distance at 396 feet and tracked its exit velocity at 109.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off a pitcher's bat this season.
In fact, since the Statcast™ era began last season, only two pitchers have hit a ball harder, although one of them has done it twice.
Lester's drive unseated a 108.3-mph double that the Nationals' Joe Ross stroked on Friday as the best of 2016.
What makes Lester such an interesting case is that before hitting an infield single against current teammate and then-Cardinals pitcher John Lackey last July 7 in Chicago, he had been 0-for-66 at the plate (plus 0-for-5 in the postseason). That set a record for the longest hitless streak to begin a career.
"He doesn't have a bad swing, he really doesn't, technically," Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said after that game. "He's hit some balls really hard this year, with some bad luck. Hopefully, it's going to lead to more hits. It's one of those quirky things. And there's a lot of guys with a lot worse swings than he has that have gotten hits. That's how this game plays sometimes."
Just a manager sticking up for his guy? Well, maybe not quite. Lester picked up three more singles last September, finishing the season 4-for-62, and now is 1-for-2 this season with a walk, a sacrifice bunt and his first extra-base knock.
Beyond those surface-level results, Statcast™ shows that Lester actually had the second-best average exit velocity among pitchers last season (minimum 10 non-bunt balls in play). His 92.5-mph average trailed only Padres righty's Tyson Ross' 93.5.
There were two main issues for Lester. First, he didn't make much contact, striking out in 30 of 71 plate appearances last year. Second, he posted an average launch angle of -1.4 degrees, which means he was pounding the ball into the ground when he did connect.
But on Sunday, Lester put it all together. He put the bat on the ball and did so with a solid 17.9-degree launch angle. Combine that with the sizzling exit velocity, and you get a ball that ends up touching ivy nearing 400 feet from home.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.