Jon Lester is a good pitcher. Jon Lester had a good 2013 season and a great 2013 postseason, leading the Red Sox to the World Championship as the team’s #1 starter. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to players like Lester, as he has been a part of the team since 2006 and has an excellent backstory of overcoming adversity. However, despite Lester being one of the best left-handed starters in baseball right now, the Red Sox should not sign him to a long, expensive contract extension.
Lester had a strong season both on the surface and peripherally, as he posted a 3.75 ERA with a 3.59 FIP and 2.64 K/BB. However, it’s easy to forget that a second half surge was the only thing preventing Lester from having his second consecutive season with an ERA over 4.50; his ERA at the All-Star Break was 4.58 after posting a 4.82 mark in 2012. That’s not to say that Lester got lucky in the second half, where he posted a superb 2.57 ERA at the forefront Boston’s rotation. I think that Lester is a good pitcher, and hopefully the second half was a return to form rather than an aberration, but it’s tough to say.
Lester’s second half was benefited greatly by a severe drop in his home runs allowed per nine innings. After allowing an admittedly high 1.07 in the first half, he allowed only 0.41 per nine in the second half. Lester’s career rate is 0.84 HR/9– much closer to the first number than the second. Given that none of his other statistics changed all that much, save for his walk rate, which decreased from 3.22 to 2.26– dropping from a number close to his career norm to one well below it.
Overall, it’s a tough call with Lester. He has had his ups and downs over the last few years, and it’s clear that when Lester is on, he is dominant, but when he is off, he is incredibly hittable. Lester, going into his age 30 season, is soon going to have to deal with the inevitable dropping of velocity on his fastball and the dulling of his off-speed pitches.
With that being said, Lester is a good pitcher but is really more of a #2 or #3 starter than the ace he will likely be paid to be. A few contract projections for Lester have been 5 years/$100 million and 6 years/$120 million. Steamer and Oliver project Lester’s to post ERA’s of 3.90 and 3.93 respectively in 2014, making him a perfectly serviceable starting pitcher, especially as a lefty, but not a pitcher worth $20 million per year. I’d still like to see the Red Sox extend Lester, but not at the prices that I’ve seen thrown around.