Some things in sports make no sense. Like, how can a professional athlete whose very livelihood depends on the ability to hurl a ball with nearly superhuman accuracy forfeit that precision with a 90-degree pivot?
Against the Rockies on Sunday, Cubs lefthanded pitcher Jon Lester flubbed a throw to first. Watch as Lester, who will make $25 million this year for his ability to accurately throw a baseball, field a bunt, turn to first base and spike the ball down onto the infield grass well short of its target.
More amazing than the inaccuracy of the throw was its efficacy. The bouncing ball made its way to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for an out.
Lester has a long documented case of the yips, known to baseball fans as the loss of motor function that surrounds a routine movement, like turning from the pitchers’ mound and throwing to first base. The yips are typically brought on a by a traumatic experience and the anxiety attached to trying not to repeat it.
Last season, Lester did not throw to first for 66 games. Almost exactly a year ago, in an article published on April 12, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon told the Boston Globe that Lester’s problems “were being a little overplayed.” Then Lester lofted a pickoff attempt so far above Rizzo’s head the first baseman had to turn and run into the outfield to catch up with it. When Lester eventually picked off a runner at first for the first time since 2011, and there was much rejoicing.
Aside from another brush with the yips, Lester had positive performance on Sunday. Although the Cubs lost the Rockies, 2-0, at Wrigley Field, Lester struck out 10 and allowed one run on four hits in 7.1 innings. He took the loss but has a 2.21 ERA in three starts this season. Lester also ripped a double in the sixth inning that managed an exit velocity of 109.9 mph, as per MLB.com’s Statcast, making it the hardest hit ball by a pitcher so far this year.
Just another day at the old ball yard for the Cubs’ veteran starter.