"I'm not dead," Lester insisted to reporters in Mesa on Monday.
With his continued earthly existence confirmed by multiple sources, we can continue to enjoy Lester's quixotic battle with the highfalutin' nerds and their fancy-pants book larnin' defining performance in seemingly complicated and overwhelming ways. He's miffed at the projection algorithms that predict an erosion in his game at age 35 and lashed out at the statistical categories beyond the traditional and blunt numbers he uses to define himself.
"I'm sure you can go back to Hall of Fame pitchers and break down barrel rates, hard contact and FIPs and all this other stuff," Lester said. "At the end of the year, 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA is still pretty good."
All of that is true, of course. Everyone inside the game and up to speed with how we currently appreciate it has done just that, using all the tools at our disposal to best understand how effective players are or were at their respective jobs. We do better and better at that with more telling statistical pictures and comparative models. And even though we know that won/loss record and ERA are less-than-ideal measures of individual success or failure, he's right that those numbers can be seen as loosely correlative, often, to "pretty good."
Lester was worth 1.7 fWAR in 2018, making him the 49th-best starting pitcher in MLB. An average of projection metrics (PECOTA, Steamer, Zips, etc.) expects him to bounce back to 2 WAR this year. To do that or better, one would hope that his dismissive exterior belies an openness in welcoming all the help modern information can give him to defy the aging curve.
While Lester rails sarcastically against such ideas -- "I'll let a computer program tell me whether or not I'm going to be good this year," he said -- he stopped short of saying he's unwilling to acknowledge or apply the information provided by the Cubs' well-staffed, high-bandwith pitching infrastructure, an instrument of the organization cultivated to optimize his approach.
New pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has all the video and data at his disposal to ensure that Lester is best prepared for any situation he faces, informed by his own history and that of whomever stands in the batter's box. It's how the intelligence is delivered that may be most important, the ease of communication the limiting factor in acceptance.
Where a younger pitcher may prefer an encrypted scouting report just texted over the night before an appearance, Lester may respond better to the same information drawled through tobacco-stained teeth or grumbled over beers. Whatever it takes is the point, translated to the level of baseball-ness that gets the message across.
Lester would be wise to get over an aversion to analytics, particularly at a point in his career where a drop-off seems to be already underway. Pitchers in their mid-30s throwing their fastball at career-low velocity need all the help they can get, and plenty is there for him if he wants it.