Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester building his case for Hall of Fame
Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester has accomplished just about everything one can in the big leagues. Future consideration into Cooperstown has to be in play.
Chicago Cubs‘ starter Jon Lester has led an accomplished career across three teams in parts of 12 MLB seasons.
Ron Darling called him one of the best of his generation. He went on to say of all the accolades Lester has accumulated, for a former player such as Darling to be able to have called him a teammate would be the highest honor bestowed upon someone as accomplished as Lester.
The owner of three World Series rings, Lester is the seventh active winningest pitcher with 154 career wins, and sixth among active starters with a .631 win percentage. He has thrown a no hitter, just hit his first career home run, and has north of 2,000 strikeouts.
Short of winning a Cy Young, and he’s come close, Lester has built quite the resume. When thinking ahead to possible entry into Cooperstown for the 33-year-old, it may be increasingly likely for the southpaw.
Though the value of the pitcher win stat has been diminished among those in baseball circles, it’s still among the chief barometers when dissecting Hall of Fame resumes and for placing historical context.
While 20 wins in a season and 300 for a career tend to be those magic numbers, it also appears increasingly unlikely we’ll never see 300 again.
Racking up the wins
Lester is just on the peripheral of all-time postseason wins with nine. There’s a good chance he’ll move into the top 10 this year.
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Between 2006 when Lester entered the league and now, he’s fourth among starters with 154 regular season victories. Justin Verlander is first with 180. Lester is ninth among WAR (41.4).
Lester is also durable. In his12th big league season, he’s surpassed 200 innings pitched in eight of them.
He currently finds himself in a tie for most starts with 24. He finished T-1st with eight others in 2008 with two shutouts, led the 2010 AL in K/9, and led the NL in winning percentage last year.
Since 2010, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer represent amongst the very best the game has to offer. Both are 1-2 in WAR with Lester eighth. Lester ranks fifth among innings pitched in that span.
Scherzer won the Cy Young in 2016 and Lester just missed out on the ERA crown to teammate Kyle Hendricks. Scherzer had the edge in innings pitched, while Lester gave up fewer hits, 20 fewer earned runs, 10 fewer home runs and issued fewer walks. Scherzer had almost 100 more strikeouts, a better opponent batting average against, better WHIP and WAR.
In the second half of last season, Lester and Scherzer went 10-1, while Lester had an ERA of 1.76, just over a full run better than Scherzer. Though Lester did not win the Cy Young, his second-place finish was his best to-date and has proven he can go toe-to-toe with the game’s best.
A formula for success
There is no specific formula for Hall of Fame measures. For some players, you don’t have to look beyond the back of a baseball card to see those destined for greatness.
I think it’s also worth considering Lester’s years in the AL East, and overall, the American League. Since he only spent half a season with Boston in 2014, we’ll look at his debut year of 2006 through 2013.
During that span, he won 100 games, the fifth-most of any AL starter. Comparing CC Sabathia‘s years in the AL East (2009-2013) up against Lester, Sabathia won 88 games. Lester was second with 73 wins.
In 2010, Lester posted one of his finest single-season totals: 19 wins with a 3.25 ERA. Only teammate Clay Bucholz (2.33 ERA) and Sabathia (3.18 ERA) were better. In that 2010 season, the league average ERA was 4.14, the NL at 4.02.
Three of the top home run-hitting clubs in MLB that year were the Blue Jays, Lester’s Red Sox and the Yankees. This just a small sample to keep in mind the kind of offenses Lester was up against.
This is where adjusted ERA factors in with league and park-adjustments.
Hall of really great
Kershaw is a Hall of Fame lock today for most, if not all. FanGraphs uses ERA- and to provide perspective, Kershaw is the active leader (62). Jon Lester ranks T-10th, (81), minimum 1,000 innings pitched. He’s in the great-to-above average range among ERA- / FIP – / xFIP-.
Is Jon Lester a Hall of Famer today? Probably not but the lefty is building a case.
While it remains to be seen what the career finishes will look like on Lester’s baseball card, he’s likely going to have a shot at 200 career wins and 2,500 strikeouts, similar to Roy Halladay.
Next: How Willson Contreras almost wasn’t a Cubs’ superstar
For Lester today, he owns three World Series rings with the two most distinctive associated droughts. All he’s worried about is winning more.