This also included the World Series where Lester went 2-0 in 2 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up just one earned run (0.59 ERA for the entire series), threw 15 strikeouts, and had 0.652 WHIP while pitching in 15.1 innings.
Now it’s 2014 and Lester has entered the final year of a 5 year/$30 million contract that he signed with the team back in 2009. There were talks on contract negotiations between Lester and the Red Sox during the offseason but that got put on hold at the request of Lester. However in recent weeks, the contract talks are starting to become more and more frequent.
Which leads us to the big question: Should Jon Lester get an ‘Ace Type’ Contract/a multi-year contract worth $20-million per year?
The answer is a big, fat, emphatic NO!
Before you Red Sox fans get all up in arms, look at some of the factors that will play into the whole resigning process.
First is the Farrell Factor.
Farrell was the Red Sox pitching coach from 2007-2010 and was key in developing Lester into a solid, reliable pitcher. During that same time frame, Lester had a 65-32 record with an ERA of 3.37, had 652 strikeouts, 0.391 WHIP. Then Farrell left the Red Sox to go become the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays from 2011 to 2012. When he left, there was a dip in Lester’s performance that was very, very noticeable.
In 2011, Lester had what appeared to be an adequate year overall statistics wise. (15-9 in 31 starts with a 3.47 ERA, 1.257 WHIP, 182 Ks). But the overall stats fail to tell what happened during the month of September when the Red Sox had that historical collapse. In that month, Lester started in 6 games for the Red Sox. He went 1-3 with an ERA of 5.40, gave up 35 hits and had a WHIP of 1.579. He also had 16 walks and 32 strikeouts (essentially 1 walk per 2 strikeouts). If you wanted to know what the Red Sox’s record during that stretch, they were 1-5 when Lester was on the mound.
If that doesn’t concern you, look at the following season. In 2012, Lester had a season many Red Sox fans seems to block out. He had a 9-14 record in 33 starts with a career high ERA (4.82) to go along with a career high WHIP (1.383), a career high in earned runs allowed (110), and the second lowest career strikeout total (166). Not to mention he was one of the key ringleaders in the whole ‘Chick and Beer’ scandal that everybody is so willing to forgive and forget.
When Farrell came back to the Red Sox in 2013, you saw a big rebound in Lester’s numbers (15-8 in 33 starts with 3.75 ERA, 177 strikeouts, 1.294 WHIP) as well as a World Series victory. So you’re telling me that Lester can only pitch lights out when Farrell is on the Red Sox staff? Say a couple years down the line Farrell gets a pink slip because either things do not work out between him and Red Sox management or there’s a new general manager that wants to bring in their own guy. If you’re the Red Sox GM, do you want a pitcher in your rotation who can only pitch well for one particular person and be average/below average with others?
Now let’s look the age factor and how it relates to big time contracts and production.
Starting next year, Lester will be 31. Let’s say that he does sign for that big multi year deal worth over $120-150 million for arguments sake. The following pitchers below were in similar positions like Jon Lester and their teams gave them that multiyear, $100+ million 'ace' deal only to see it blow up in there faces.
Was in a contract year in 2012 where he had a 17-6 record with a 3.05 ERA, 216 strikeouts, pitched in 215.1 innings, and had a WHIP of 1.124, and was an NL All-Star. The Philadelphia Phillies gave in a 6 year/$144 million contract in the 2013 offseason. Here are his numbers since signing that contract:
2013 -> 8-14 in 33 starts, 3.60 ERA, 220 innings pitched, 202 strikeouts, 1.159 WHIP. Age: 29
2014-> 4-5 in 17 starts, 2.83 ERA, 114.1 innings pitched, 115 strikeouts, 1.172 WHIP. Age: 30
Was in a contract year in 2010 where he had a 12-9 record with a 3.18 ERA, 185 strikeouts, pitched in 212.1 innings, and had a WHIP of 1.003, and was an AL All-Star with the Texas Rangers that year. He then signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 and was given a 5 year/$120 million contract. Here are his numbers since that contract signing:
2011 ->17-8 in 23 starts, 2.40 ERA, 232.2 innings pitched, 238 strikeouts, 1.027 WHIP. Age: 32
2012->6-9 in 30 starts, 3.16 ERA, 211 innings pitched, 207 strikeouts, 1.114 WHIP. Age: 33
2013 ->14-8 in 30 starts, 2.87 ERA, 222.2 innings pitched, 222 strikeouts, 1.010 WHIP. Age: 34
2014-> 4-5 in 11 starts, 3.67 ERA, 73.2 innings pitched, 64 strikeouts, 1.357 WHIP. Missed over 2 months due to time on the 60-day disabled list with strained left elbow. Age: 35
LHP CC Sabathia
Remember when he was the ‘must-have’ guy in free agency back in 2009? The New York Yankees signed the lefty Sabathia to an unprecedented 8 year/$186-million deal, which made him the highest paid pitcher at the time. Here were the numbers of the early goings of that deal:
2009 -> 19-8 in 34 starts, 3.37 ERA, 230 innings pitched, 197 strikeouts, 1.148 WHIP at age 28
2010-> 21-7 in 34 starts, 3.18 ERA, 237.2 innings pitched, 197 strikeouts, 1.191 WHIP at age 29
2011 -> 19-8 in 33 starts, 3.00 ERA, 237.1 innings pitched, 230 strikeouts, 1.140 WHIP at age 30
2012 -> 15-6 in 28 starts, 2.40 ERA, 232.2 innings pitched, 238 strikeouts, 1.027 WHIP at age 31
But then recently, Sabathia’s numbers took a nose dive in the two most recent seasons.
2013 -> 14-13 in 32 starts, 4.78 ERA, 211 innings pitched, 175 strikeouts, 1.370 WHIP at age 32
2014-> 3-4 in 8 starts, 5.28 ERA, 46 innings pitched, 48 strikeouts, 1.478 WHIP, suffered a knee injury in May and was put on the 60-day disabled list, announced on July 18 he will miss rest of season to have surgery on his knee at age 33
If none of the 3 previous pitchers would scare Red Sox fans, I'm sure Verlander would. He was the premerial ace in the Tigers’ pitching rotation that could change the outcome of a game. From 2009-12, Verlander win total did not dip below 15 and his strikeout total did not dip below 215. Not to mention during that stretch his ERA was no 3.45, including in 2011 and 2012 where he had an ERA below 2.50. Oh yes, he won the AL CY Young Award and the AL MVP Award in 2011. Then in the 2013 offseason, the Tigers signed Verlander to a 7 year/$180 million contract. Here are Verlander’s numbers after signing that deal.
2013 -> 13-12 in 34 starts, 3.46 ERA, 218.1 innings pitched, 217 strikeouts, 1.315 WHIP at age 30
2014-> 9-8 in 21 starts, 4.84 ERA, 135.2 innings pitched, 101 strikeouts, 1.452 WHIP at age 31
All those pitchers pitched amazing in their contract years and then signed 5+ year/$100+ deals (the same type of deal Lester wants) in the following offseason. Then after a certain point, they began to break down and their production levels began to fluctuate before slipping downwards. However their teams are still on the hook to pay out the rest of that money and baseball contracts are always guaranteed contracts. Sure you’ll get maybe 2-3 good years out of Lester, 4 if you’re lucky. But then when he gets up there in age and his production is starting to dip, you still gotta pay him $XX-million for that season and the seasons after that. And the only way to get rid of them is to trade him away, but be willing to eat some of that money.
But the most important thing is that if the Red Sox let Lester walk, they have the one thing most teams wish they could have: pitching prospect depth. The Red Sox farm system is full of young arms (Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Henry Owens, Brandon Workman, Steven Wright). Some of them already have major league experience and in fact have already pitched in this season (De La Rosa, Workman).
The notation that you need to sign Lester to give the young arms a veteran leader is ludicrous. There are plenty of veteran pitchers who can eat innings as well as provide some form of coaching/consoling to the Red Sox young pitchers (potential 2015 FA targets like Gavin Floyd, Jason Hammel, Ervin Santana, James Shields). Red Sox management can sign one or even two veteran with the money that they saved if they don’t break the bank on Lester.
Now in the 2014 season, Lester has a 10-7 record in 20 starts with an ERA of 2.50 with 142 strikeouts, 31 walks, and a WHIP of 1.117 in 137 innings pitched. The Red Sox record in games that Lester started in the 2014 is 13-7. He was also voted to the AL team pitching staff for the MLB All-Star break. Essentially, Lester is on pace to having career bests in all those categories if he keeps up that performance.
Those stats just screams ‘Sign him now!’ and I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans are begging for management to lock Lester up for a long time. But let’s be frank with ourselves. Bottom line is that Lester is having a great 2014 is because he wants to get that big time contract. Name me one player in any sport who sabotaged himself in a contract year so he could get less money.
Sure Lester is a great postseason pitcher for the Red Sox and has come through in clutch moments. But during the regular season, he’s not an ace-type pitcher. He doesn’t blow you away or make you go wow, he doesn’t shut down the opposition or take over the game.
The last time the Red Sox had an ace was Pedro Martinez and Jon Lester is no Pedro. If he were on another team, Lester would be a solid No. 2 pitcher in rotation.
It’s the romantic idea to have a homegrown guy stay with the team for his entire career. But if it’s gonna cost the team money, sorry Lester but it was nice knowing you. We thank you for your services and your time here at Fenway but we have to move on.
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