Chicago Cubs: Jon Lester faces critical year in Hall of Fame quest

Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Jon Lester, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester could be a Hall of Fame candidate once he retires, yet he still has some work to do. The 2020 season will be critical.

With the National Baseball Hall of Fame announcing its election results on Tuesday, that also could prompt us to think about potential Hall of Fame candidates who are currently playing. The Chicago Cubs have at least one such player in veteran left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, who is entering his age-36 season.

We’ve already discussed on these pages how the Cubs will need Lester to have a good year in 2020. Yet from an personal standpoint, Lester must have a good season if he wants to have a chance at making the Hall of Fame someday. Coming into the 2019 campaign, Lester was a strong candidate, but his case may have taken a hit with his subpar season in which he posted an ERA of 4.46. He’ll need to do better than that in 2020.

If Lester were to retire today, he likely would not gain election. He’s been a part of three World Series Championship teams and has done great work in the postseason, with nine career wins and an ERA of 2.51. It seems like that should strengthen his case, yet voters traditionally haven’t put much stock in the postseason.

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As of right now, the regular season numbers aren’t quite there. Lester’s career record is 190-108, which is a tremendous win percentage but not enough wins; with a decent year he’ll pass 200 wins in 2020. Meanwhile, the career ERA of 3.56, while solid, is not elite. Because of that, Lester’s case will rely heavily on longevity and individual seasons. So far, he’s made the All-Star team five times and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young Award voting four times, including three in the top four.

Lester is just a year removed from a great 2018 season in which he made 32 starts and posted a 3.32 ERA while leading the league with 18 wins. If he could put together two or three more seasons like that, that might be enough to get him in. That’s why he has to get it done in 2020.

I’ve talked about wins here, yet I know that this statistic doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to. If we look at newer stats, such as WAR, for example, Lester’s case looks bleak; at 45.5 career WAR, if he has three more seasons of 3.5 (which is asking a lot), that would put him at 56.0, still lower than 2021 candidates Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle, both of whom face a big uphill climb to get in.

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Jon Lester has already established himself as a “Hall of Very Good” candidate, but there’s still work to do to get into the Hall of Fame. That’s why he’ll have to catch a second wind and have not only a good 2020, but probably a good 2021 and 2022 as well, to gain election someday. Any chance he has whatsoever depends on what he can do this year.