Jon Lester has been named the starter for Game 1 of the World Series. This is exactly why the Chicago Cubs signed him, but last year fans worried that his contract might be a bit too large. Needless to say, it’s paid off big time.
The Chicago Cubs’ transition from perennial losers to championship contenders started with one move–the signing of Jon Lester. That was the turning point. That was the move that told Cubs fans “the time is now.” You don’t sign a guy like that to start the rebuilding process. In fact, signing a player like Lester signifies you have completed the process of rebuilding. All that’s left to do is win.
In 2014, Lester received a 6-year contract worth $155M with a team option for 2021. At the time, no one was worried about the size of the contract at all. Lester was the big fish of the free agent market that year. The money was the furthest thing from Cubs fans’ minds. Their team had just signed one of the best pitchers in the league. The time to compete had arrived.
Lester started the year recovering from a dead arm that troubled him in the preseason. He played through it for the most part, but the results left a little bit to be desired. In fact, he was not good at all for the first couple of months. This is when fans started to feel some skepticism. All of a sudden that mammoth contract looked like a little too much.
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The veteran southpaw finally started to settle in after putting the dead arm behind him. He was beginning to look like the ace the Cubs signed him to be. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows from there, though. Lester was somewhat inconsistent all season long. Before long it became impossible to tell which version of Lester would show up.
The inconsistency was troubling for fans, but the 3.34 ERA he finished with was hardly anything to be upset about.
He finished with an 11-12 record, but pitcher records can be reflective of the team as whole. Heck, Shelby Miller turned in a 3.02 ERA in 2015 and had a 6-17 record to show for it! So a pitcher’s record isn’t necessarily indicative of how he performed in a particular year.
Did Lester put up ace numbers in 2015? Not quite. But they were still fairly good. And what Lester lacked, Jake Arrieta more than made up for.
The most frustrating part of Lester’s year was his yips. It will forever be one of the great sports mysteries to me. A veteran ace who can throw multiple types of pitches anywhere in the strike zone with pinpoint accuracy can’t throw the ball to first base. When Lester had shaky performances, teams did their best to expose that flaw, and on some occasions, it probably cost the Cubs a few games.
Fans were reasonably upset about this. At the time it wasn’t a good look to give $155M to a guy who couldn’t keep even the slower players from stealing on him at will.
Then came 2016, and with it a different Jon Lester. 2016 turned out to be a career year for Lester, one that will earn him Cy Young consideration. Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA and recorded 197 strikeouts. Now those are ace numbers.
There were a couple of rough games in the middle of the season, but other than that, Lester was pretty much lights-out all year long. He was a rock for the Chicago Cubs. A guy they could count on every time he pitched.
The yips? Not really an issue in 2016. When Lester performs like he has all season long, it’s not much of a problem at all. If players aren’t getting on base often enough, there’s no real danger. The Dodgers got a little too cute trying to exploit that flaw in the NLCS, and it backfired big time.
Now the Cubs find themselves in the World Series for the first time in 71 years. Jon Lester was signed specifically to help the team get to this point, and he delivered. In 119 postseason innings pitched, Lester has a 2.50 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.
As far as the postseason is concerned, 2016 has been no different for Lester. So far Lester is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA. Lester is no stranger to the World Series either. In three World Series starts, Lester is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA. It’s no surprise that he gets the nod for Game 1.
Lester will be the first member of the Chicago Cubs to pitch in a World Series game in 71 years. He’s proven to be worth every cent the Cubs have given him, and then some. It’s not unusual to see guys struggle a little bit during their first year with a new team, and it appears Lester has now settled in nicely. Let’s hope the same applies to Jason Heyward. But that’s a different story for a different time.