A few weeks ago, I took a look at 10 current active baseball players who I believe have the most to lose from a canceled 2020 season in terms of their Hall of Fame candidacies. Since we're still waiting around for baseball to happen, I wanted to take a closer look at some of these players. I've already done cases and . Next up is Jon Lester.
Jon Lester's time with the Cubs is likely coming to an end soon. His deal is up after 2020 unless the Cubs want to pick up a $25 million option for Lester's age-37 season. Given that he's coming off a 4.46 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 2019 and led the NL in hits allowed, the smart money is on the Cubs declining the option. Perhaps he agrees to stay home on a much smaller deal. Maybe he decides to retire. It's hard to know his path until we actually see how he pitches in 2020's abbreviated campaign.
Speaking of, the SportsLine projection model has Lester 12-7 with a 4.18 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 133 innings over 25 starts this season. But the season is likely to be about 80 games, in which case Lester would get 16 or so starts.
With this in mind, I wonder if Lester winning fewer than 10 games this season would have an affect on his longshot Hall of Fame candidacy? He's unlikely to be very effective in 2021 and beyond and we're already hearing that owners are going to push hard to lower payroll. As such, Lester being forced into retirement after this season is a possibility.
I don't think round numbers like 200 wins should ever be more important than the full picture, but Lester is 190-108 in his career to date. Getting to 200 wins would beef up his resume. I don't think he'll get there in a shortened 2020 season.
In terms of just his stat sheet in the regular season, I think Lester is safely out of Cooperstown for most voters.
Right now, as noted, he's 190-108 (which is an outstanding .638 win percentage for those who look at that) with a 3.56 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.26 WHIP and 2,355 strikeouts against 812 unintentional walks in 2,537 2/3 innings. He's a five-time All-Star who has never won a Cy Young. He does, however, have a Cy Young runner-up (2016), two fourth-place finishes and a ninth-place finish.
In JAWS, he sits 151st among starting pitchers -- it's skewed with many names from the Deadball Era and 1800s who racked up obscene innings totals to pad their WAR. Still, the average JAWS figure among current Hall of Famers sits between 32 and 33 (Justin Verlander, by the way, is 33rd). The company Lester is keeping around 150 includes Brad Radke, Steve Rogers, Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez.
None of this adds up to a person who is going to get lots of Hall of Fame votes.
There's more here. It's not the Hall of Stats.
Lester's first two MLB seasons were impacted after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. He won the Tony Conigliario Award, given to an MLB player who overcomes adversity, in 2007. He also was part of the Red Sox's World Series-winning rotation that season, starting the clinching Game 4. It was the beginning of one of the best postseason pitching resumes of all-time.
Lester has been the Game 1 pitcher for two World Series championship teams. He's worked in 26 games (22 starts) in the postseason and has pitched to a 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 133 strikeouts against 40 walks in 154 innings. In three different World Series (all wins in 2007, 2013 and 2016), he is 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings.
Lester won three World Series, two with the Red Sox and one with the Cubs. Go back to 2003 and think about that one.
And maybe this moves the needle: Lester was the single most significant free agent signing in Cubs history. I've said this before and I'll get back answers like Andre Dawson (never won a ring with the Cubs) and Ben Zobrist (a close second, but Zobrist was joining a team that just won 97 games and went to the NLCS). In Lester's case, he was the first big name to take a leap of faith and join the Cubs. They were fresh off a 73-win season when he inked a deal before the 2015 campaign. Yes, it looked like the tide was turning, but there was no way to know for sure.
Lester was the man who solidified the Cubs' turn.
Through his age-35 season, Hall of Famers Mike Mussina, Jim Bunning and Roy Halladay sit in Lester's top 10 statistical similars as well as future Hall of Famer Verlander and future fringe Hall of Fame candidate Zack Grienke. The top two matches are Dwight Gooden and Andy Pettitte.
There are bonus points for Lester being the Cubs' best signing, overcoming cancer and the postseason heroics. That gets him closer.
I'd guess Lester's case likely falls short unless he has a few more successful seasons, though. And with a shortened season at age 36, the prospects dim even further.