Chicago Cubs Gradeout: Jon Lester better than you may think


SP. Chicago Cubs. JON LESTER. B. 11-12, 3.34 ERA, 32 GS, 205 IP, 2.92 FIP, 207 K, 9.1 SO/9, 4.40 SO/BB

There is no more common target of Chicago Cubs’ fans criticisms than Jon Lester. That being said, the southpaw showcased his dominance, at times, this season.

Any time an organization goes out and gives a player the richest free agent contract in team history, he’s probably going to be a popular target of fan’s ire.

With the Cubs, we saw it in recent years with the likes of Alfonso Soriano, who hit almost 200 homers during his time on the North Side, and, this season, with Lester, who inked a six-year, $155 deal last winter.

The bar was set high immediately, with Lester, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon making it clear: the goal wasn’t to be a .500 team. It wasn’t even to contend in the powerful National League Central. It was to make the postseason and win the World Series. For players like Lester, there’s just no other way to approach a season.

On Opening Night, it was the grizzled southpaw who got the ball for the Chicago Cubs with the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals in town for Major League Baseball’s first action of the year.

To be blunt, it was a disappointment.

Lester pitched just 4 1/3 innings, allowing three earned on eight hits and two walks in a game Chicago would eventually go on to lose by a 3-0 final. That theme – a lack of run support – emanated throughout the left-hander’s 32 outings this year, which no-doubt played a role in Cubs fans’ criticism.

The Chicago ace received two runs or fewer in 14 starts this season, in which he pitched to a 2.98 ERA but posted a 2-9 win-loss record. When the Cubs tallied three or more runs in support of Lester, he was outstanding in terms of a win-loss mark, coming in at 9-3.

Perhaps more than a lack of run support, it was a see-saw-like season that plagued Lester, as consistency evaded him for more than a few weeks at a time.

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In March and April, his earned run average soared to a mark north of 6.00 – and he went into the month of May winless in a Chicago Cubs uniform. However, as the temperatures warmed, so did Lester, as he pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA in both May and July, also pitching well (2.36 ERA/0.786 WHIP) in his 11 September and October starts.

However, as good as he was in those months, he was equally as disappointing in June and August, struggling to a 5.00-plus ERA while seeing his strikeout-to-walk numbers plummet and WHIP soar.

Overall, Lester was a solid piece of the Cubs starting rotation. That being said, when you pay a guy $155 million, you expect a little more consistency. You can’t quantify the winning mentality and focus he brought to the team this season, which some would say is invaluable. But you certainly can’t discount it – and whether you like to believe it or not, that – coupled with his on-field performance – is a solid start to his Chicago Cubs career.

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