Top stats to know: Lester, A's vs. Braves

Jon Lester will try to prevent the Oakland Athletics from getting swept by the Atlanta Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball."

This is the kind of game for which Lester was brought in -- to be a stopper when a team hits a little bit of a skid.

Jon Lester ERA
AL Ranks Since 2012

Lester is 13-7 with a 2.51 ERA this season, 3-0 with a 2.49 ERA for the Athletics.

He is 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA over his last 11 starts (during which his teams are a combined 10-1).

Let’s take a look at some of his statistical storylines sure to be talked about on tonight’s broadcast.

What makes Lester so good?

Lester has increased his strikeout rate while decreasing both his walk and home run rates this season. He has 169 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings. He ranks fourth among left-handed starters with a 25 percent strikeout rate.

The reason for the jump in his strikeout rate could be related to his curveball. Lester’s effectiveness with the curve in two-strike situations has jumped considerably from past seasons.

Last season, Lester threw 145 two-strike curveballs and struck out 21 batters. This season, he has thrown 159 and struck out 45.

What’s different about Lester?

Lester has done a few things differently this season.

• He has increased the use of his cutter, from around 24 percent of his pitches in 2012 and '13 to nearly 31 percent this season (his second-most thrown pitch after the four-seam fastball).

Jon Lester - 2014 Season

• He has reduced the use of his changeup significantly. He threw it between 9 and 11 percent of the time each year from 2010 to 2013 but is throwing it only 3 percent of the time this year.

Lester has shaved 50 points off his batting average allowed vs. right-handed batters in part because of an increased willingness to come in on them. His rate of inside pitches (those on the inner third of the plate or off the inside corner) has gone from 35 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2013 to 49 percent this season. (Clayton Kershaw is the only lefty starter who throws inside more often.)

Key matchups

The Braves have several hitters who have done significant damage against left-handed pitching this season.

Third baseman Chris Johnson enters 33-for-76 against lefties this season (a .434 batting average). Justin Upton is hitting .313 with seven home runs in 83 at-bats versus southpaw pitchers.

And pesky infielder Tommy La Stella has gotten off to a nice start against lefties with 18 hits in his first 53 at-bats.

In Johnson’s case, the key may be to throw a few wide of the strike zone and hope he chases them. He has swung at 37 percent of pitches out of the zone from lefties the past two seasons. Johnson is hitting .522 when he makes contact with a pitch from a lefty over the past two seasons.

Upton tends to be choosier than Johnson against lefties, but he is a little vulnerable in the upper half of the zone. He is 6-for-48 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the upper half (or above) from a lefty over the past two seasons, with misses on 35 percent of his swings.