In 2015, Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award, having completed arguably the most impressive second half in the history of the sport.
Because of that (and Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell, and 97 wins, and the NLCS, and helmet rubs) we often overlooked a very impressive season from rotation-mate Jon Lester – the third best season from a Cubs starter in two decades, as a matter of fact.
Unfortunately, (but really, fortunately) the same thing is kinda happening to him again in 2016.
This season, Lester is pitching alongside the 2015 NL Cy Young award winner (who also managed another no-hitter), and the MLB ERA leader in Kyle Hendricks. The result is yet another brilliantly pitched, but dangerously underrated season from the Cubs veteran lefty.
But with his most recent gem and the likelihood that he’ll be Game 1 starter in the NLDS, we cannot allow anyone to overlook him for a day longer. Jon Lester is fantastic and has been all season long.
Fresh off a near-no-hitter/complete game and a seven-inning shutout, Jon Lester took the mound yesterday in the series finale against the Cardinals. What he did next was something he’s done all season long – dominate – plus some extra things:
The final line for Lester’s night read 8.0 IP, 0 earned runs, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 8 strikeouts. It took him just 104 pitches to get through his eight innings of work, throwing 67 strikes – 15 of the swing-and-miss variety. According to Brooks Baseball, his fastball reached up to 94.5 MPH, while routinely working between 91-93 MPH throughout the day.
Moreover, after a really strong second half of the season, Lester’s ERA dropped down to just 2.40 ERA for the year – his best mark ever and the second best ERA in all of baseball.
Lester is really all over the leader boards (both of the NL and all of MLB), so let’s do what we do, and take a deeper dive into some of his statistics compared to the rest of the league (NL rank, MLB rank):
- ERA: 2.40 (2nd, 2nd)
- FIP: 3.45 (9th, T-15th)
- xFIP: 3.47 (6th, 12th)
- Strikeout Rate: 24.9% (7th, 15th)
- Walk Rate: 6.7% (17th, T-36th)
- AVG: .208 (5th, 5th)
- WAR: (7th, 14th)
So, as you can very clearly tell, Jon Lester has definitely been one of the top ten pitchers in the National League and one of the top 15 pitchers in all of baseball throughout the 2016 season. The only stat that doesn’t follow those rankings is his walk rate (6.7%), which is extremely solid anyway.
Here are a couple more notes on some of the numbers listed above:
ERA – Lester’s 2.40 ERA represents the lowest mark in his career, currently beating his previous record of 2.46 ERA in 2014. Take out that year, however, and it’s 0.81 runs better than his next best mark (3.21 – 2008).
Strikeout Rate – Jon Lester’s 24.9% strikeout rate has been almost unbelievably consistent over the past few years (25.0% in 2015, 24.9% in 2014). 2012 (19.0%) and 2013 (19.6%) represented something of a down stretch for Lester’s K-rates, but he’s bounced back in a big, and consistent way.
Batting Average – Lester’s .208 batting average allowed this season is the lowest of his career by a long shot. While the Cubs historically good defense has certainly had something to do with that, it hasn’t been entirely out of his control either. In 2016, Lester has induced the 18th most soft contact and the 6th least hard contact in the National League. Like some other Cubs pitchers, he’s finding success even when he pitches to contact. (Interestingly, he resides behind all of Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey in this department. An embarrassment of riches on the contact department?)
Put simply, Jon Lester has once again delivered a dominant, but slightly overshadowed season pitching for the Cubs. But how long can it possibly go unnoticed?
Spoilers: Not very long.
While most of the focus and attention (from a Cubs perspective) has been on whether or not Kyle Hendricks deserves to win the 2016 NL Cy Young Award, Jon Lester has been quietly making a case of his own. In addition to clearly having the right statistics to be at least in the conversation, Lester is now tied (with Jake Arrieta, no less) for the most wins (17) in the National League. While that doesn’t necessarily mean much to us (from an analytical perspective), it does mean something to a lot of voters.
Jon Lester is ESPN's current favorite for the 2016 NL Cy Young Award: pic.twitter.com/9LjZYYsDAf
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) September 15, 2016
To be completely upfront, these sort of “award favorites,” don’t usually go over too well. While Jake Arrieta has had a fantastic season, for example, I don’t think he should really come out over Kyle Hendricks. Similarly, Kanley Jansen (the reliever) will probably not earn more votes than either of Hendricks or Lester when all is said and done. But just because it doesn’t really mean anything doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to see the recognition.
Lester probably has about three more starts in him during the regular season, so he can strengthen his case further. As far as I’m concerned, he’s already done more than enough to be a legitimate part of the conversation – right alongside a couple of his teammates.
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