MESA, Ariz. — Go ahead, ask Jon Lester what he thinks about spin rate, xFIP, or woobly2 – or whatever the latest advanced metric is supposed to say about how good he is at pitching.
Might as well ask John Lackey if he was here for a haircut.
‘‘An out’s an out,’’ Lester said, all but spitting the words in disdain when talking about his place in baseball’s changing landscape after his first start of the spring for the Cubs on Monday.
‘‘I’m sure you could probably go back to Hall of Fame pitchers and break down barrel rate and hard contacts and FIPs and all this other stuff. But at the end of the year, 18-6 and 3.30 is still pretty good.’’
Lester might sound a little more cantankerous as he ages into his 14th season in the majors, but his 18-6 record and 3.32 ERA in 2018 were part of a fifth All-Star season.
Yet it still wasn’t good enough for Lester as a personal achievement because it fell short of one of the few metrics — 200 innings — he cares about, no matter how much the game and its modern-day management methods have made dinosaurs out of the 200-inning pitcher.
‘‘I don’t care what they expect out of us; I expect more out of myself than anybody in that front office or on the field or the fans,’’ Lester said. ‘‘That 200 is still my number.’’
So just try to tell him that he can’t get back to that mark this season. Then get out of his way. And then get off his lawn.
You think he can’t be better at 35 than he was as a 34-year-old All-Star?
‘‘Why not?’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not dead.’’
Lester might be part of a dying breed in the game, but he’s not going gentle into anyone’s good night. That might explain why he’s also not slowing down as a force in the rotation, even if his fastball has.
‘‘I mean, I still compete,’’ he said. ‘‘I think the numbers stuff is great, but that doesn’t tell you about the season.’’
Someone asked Lester about how formidable the Cubs’ rotation looks with left-hander Cole Hamels (35) for a full season and right-hander Yu Darvish (32) back healthy, along with right-hander Kyle Hendricks and left-hander Jose Quintana.
‘‘Apparently, we’re just old and ready to be on the backside of our careers,’’ he said, alluding to Baseball Prospectus’ last-place prediction for the Cubs, based in part on their aging rotation. ‘‘I’ll let a computer program tell me whether or not I’m going to be good this year.’’
Run all the algorithms available, but bet against Lester at your own risk.
‘‘He’s a metronome; he’s steady,’’ manager Joe Maddon said of the presumptive Opening Day starter. ‘‘He’s definitely an anchor.
‘‘And he just continues to grow. His ‘pitchability’ has actually increased. And he’s got the same enthusiasm to do it now that he had maybe 10 years ago. I don’t see that waning at all.’’
Just as long as ‘‘metronome’’ isn’t a new way to try to measure Lester and tell him what he can or can’t do.
Lester might have grown, adapting to decreased velocity over the years and new styles of hitting, but that doesn’t mean he has any use for your new baseball math or nerd ideas.
Did he notice the 20-second pitch clock baseball is trying out this spring?
‘‘Whatever makes people feel better.’’
In fact, the mere mention of the word ‘‘opener’’ in a question about the new concept of a one-inning starter drew a sudden snort of a laugh from Lester.
OK, but might some starters embrace the idea, if only to allow themselves to have a better chance to finish the game?
‘‘There’s a reason it says ‘starter’ before my name, plain and simple,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re not going to not start LeBron James because you want him at the end of the game.’’
Plain and simple.