The Chicago Cubs named Jon Lester as their Opening Day starter. This will be his sixth Opening Day start and 2nd as a Cub. What can we expect from Lester in 2017?
It was December 2015 when the Chicago Cubs front office, led by Theo Epstein, convinced Jon Lester to leave Boston and sign with the Cubs. Lester signed a six-year, $155 million deal with an option for a seventh year. At the time, it seemed like it could have been a lot of money to give a 31-year-old veteran. But Cubs fans were generally happy, as was I.
Lester had a great reputation. He had six of his last seven seasons over 200 innings pitched. He also comes with a fantastic postseason and World Series career. The three-time All-Star was ready to make an impact on the Cubs and there is no doubt that he did during his first two seasons.
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Lester got off to a slow start in 2015 and many people think he wasn’t worthy the money. He finished 2015 with an 11-12 record and 3.35 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. He tossed 205 innings and set a Cubs franchise record for most strikeouts by a lefty at 207. Overall, that’s a pretty solid season for Lester. Sure, his record could have been better, but all the other numbers were about on par with his career stats. Wins and losses are not always a good sign of a pitcher’s success. Lester was 0-2 in the playoffs in two starts, allowing seven runs. That was probably the most disappointing part of his 2015 season.
In 2016, however, Lester bounced back considerably. His 19 wins tied a career high and his five losses were a career low. His 2.44 ERA was also the lowest of his career. Lester was named to the All-Star Team for the fourth time is his career. In all ways, you can say that Lester had a career year in 2016 and he carried that into the postseason.
Overall, Lester was 3-1 in the playoffs including being co-MVP of the NLCS. Lester did lose his first ever World Series game, but still finished came back and pitched out of relief in Game 7. Overall, Lester is now 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his career in the World Series. He’s 9-7 with a 2.63 ERA in his entire playoff career.
Looking ahead, it’s natural to see a pitcher experience some regression after a career year (just used Arrieta as an example). However, I don’t think you will see much regression. Lester is 146-84 with a 3.44 ERA in his career and I expect his to put a season similar to his career numbers if not better. At 33, Lester is not young and is probably just getting past his prime, but he did just have a career year at age 32. Not to mention that Lester is also a good mentor to the young guys on the team. Having Lester around to teach guys like Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards, etc. is definitely a plus.
The biggest question heading into 2017 is how Lester responds to working with a new catcher. With David Ross‘ retirement, Willson Contreras will be Lester’s personal catcher. Contreras is still a young guy who will be playing in his first full season. It’s a lot to handle for a guy his age, but I think he will settle into that role nicely. We will find out quickly as Lester was named Opening Day starter for the second straight year as a Cub.
Overall, I think Lester will finish 18-7 with a 2.97 ERA, once again surpassing that 200 innings mark. With the Cubs poised to have another 100+ win season, it’s hard not to predict your top pitchers winning 15-20 games.
I think the Lester signing has paid off. The Cubs brought him in to win a championship and they have done just that. They will look back on the contract three yeas from now and say it was a good investment. Even more so if the Cubs win the World Series multiple times.