Heading into his late-30s, it’s worth wondering how much Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester has left in the tank. If he ages like we think he will, the answer is ‘a lot.’
It runs deeper than numbers. He’s a grinder. Lester always gives you 100 percent, no matter how he’s feeling or what kind of stuff he has (or doesn’t have) on any given day. When the team needs a stopper? Lester is the guy you want on the mound.
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In four seasons in Chicago, Lester is 61-31 with a 3.33 ERA and 9-7 with a 2.51 ERA in the postseason. During the team’s historic 2016 campaign, the veteran finished runner-up in National League Cy Young voting after winning 19 games for the second time in his career and pitching to a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts.
Lester has shown an incredible amount of leadership and heart in his time in Chicago. Heading into his 14th season in the league at age 34, the five-time All-Star is at a crucial stage in his career. How will he age? Well, we found a fairly decent comp in five-time World Champion and three-time All-Star Andy Pettitte.
Not bad company to be mentioned with
The two left-handers have a lot in common. Both are hard-working, durable lefties who show up in big moments. Pettitte spent 18 years in the league as a starting left-handed pitcher, 15 with the Yankees and three with the Astros. In those 18 campaigns, Pettitte went 256-153 (.626) with a 3.85 ERA – making at least 30 starts 72 percent of the time.
In 13 seasons, Lester has compiled a 177-98 (.644) record with a 3.50 earned run average. To get a more accurate comparison between the two, let’s look at their respective first 13 years in the league side-by-side.
Pettitte: 201-113 (.640), 3.83 ERA, 403 G, 393 GS, 1.355 WHIP, 118 ERA+
Lester: 177-98 (.644), 3.50 ERA, 381 G, 380 GS, 1.247 WHIP, 122 ERA+
As you can see above, there are a lot of similarities between these guys. What might be even more promising for the Chicago Cubs is that, like Pettitte, Lester turned in two of his best five seasons after turning 30. We can only hope he continues to age as the longtime Yankees southpaw did as he moved from his 30s to his early 40s.
Who said you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?
Both of these guys are grinders and are proof that, even with diminishing velocity, pitchers can actually improve with age. Pettitte called it a career in 2013 at age 41, and with Lester at 34, looking at Pettitte’s numbers from ages 35-41 will show how much Jon really has ahead of him.
In six seasons from the ages of 35-41, Pettitte averaged (per season) 12 wins, 167 innings and a 3.77 ERA. In this time he made an All-Star team in 2010 at age 38, pitched in eight playoff series with a 5-2 record and won his fifth World Series in 2009.
These are impressive numbers from someone at the end of his career. With Lester being so comparable, I’d make a bet that he won’t only match what Pettitte did from age 35 and on, but do even better.