Last night, I was watching the Cubs play the Dodgers in game five of the National League Finals. The game was exciting and fun to watch and I was glad to see the Cubs take a commanding 3-2 league, putting them one game away from a world series visit.
During this game, I found one thing to be fascinating. The Cubs pitcher, John Lester, pitched a terrific 7 innings allowing only one run off of five hits. Despite his wonderful showing, this man suffers from one shortcoming: he is unable to throw to first. As one of the best pitchers in the league, he can hurl the ball over the plate in a way that brings even the best hitters to their knees. But when it comes to picking a runner off, he breaks down and is completely flummoxed.
Lester is known as someone who will never throw to the first basemen. The last time Lester tried throwing to first was in 2015 when the ball flew over first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s head, allowing the runner to advance a base. The LA Dodgers were well aware of Lester’s Achilles heel. After he threw a four ball pitch to start off the bottom of the first, Enrique Hernandez stepped 15 feet off the base, taunting Lester to throw down. Lester did not take the bait. Later on in the game, a grounder bounced out of Lester’s glove and a few innings later he bobbled a blooper, allowing a run to score. All this time, Dodgers base runners were stepping 15, 18, even 20 feet off of first base as if saying to Lester “I’m an easy out, just throw the ball.” Lester did not throw once, instead he stared at the batter before winding up and striking out the man at the plate.
The announcers of the game spoke about two things. First, they said many times that if Lester was able to throw the ball thirty feet to first base, he would have picked off five or six guys. Second, they said that the Cubs got lucky that one two people stole bases on him. Over the past four years of pitching, runners have been 66 for 66 in terms of stolen bases and stolen base attempts.
These facts and figures made me think: what makes someone be able to throw a 90 mile per hour curveball 60 feet with pinpoint accuracy unable to toss a ball to the first baseman?
The only thing that I found that was comparable was a kid in my class who is a science genius yet in a math is retaking his third year of Geometry. He has won science contests, taken the highest levels of science the High School has to offer and is currently top of his class in a college Physics Class. He is also a Sophomore in the lowest level of math that the high school offers, and is the only sophomore in a class made up entirely of freshmen. Often times, we expect someone who is good at science to also have a strong understanding for mathematics. But this person is an anomaly-his science skills being way above his peers and his math skills being similar to a one or two grades below us.
The way my friend explains it is that instead of putting in the time necessary to getting one skill up to the same ability as the other, he has learned to make due with the lack of skills he has. Because his math skills are weak, he has told himself that in order to be successful in the class he really cares about, he has to put in that much more effort. However, that effort that he must use in science to compensate for his lack of ability in math is far less than the effort he would have to put in in order to make his math skills comparable to his science skills.
Lester must think the same way. He knows that he would be a stronger pitcher who would have to work less if he was able to prevent stolen bases and hold runners at first. However, I imagine he feels that instead of learning how to do something that most pitchers are able to do naturally, he would be better off by just becoming a better pitcher.
Instead of worrying about the man on first, he focuses on the man at the plate.
All humans have strengths and weakness, each a little different from one another. What makes people successful is how they are able to utilize their weaknesses as a way to improve their strengths. If Lester was able to throw to first, maybe his curveball would be more hittable. If my friend was better at math, maybe he would have lost the science contest.