Jon Lester, MLB’s Most Consistent Starting Pitcher

This post is going to play out like a love letter to Jon Lester. So if you’re in a romantic mood, you’ve clicked on the right link. If you’re not, maybe just stick around and hate-read. Our advertisers care little for your emotional state.

It’s safe to say that Jon Lester has sustained my sanity this season, which is no mean feat. Amongst the surge of hiccups the Cubs rotation has experienced (e.g., Jake Arrieta and John Lackey’s borderline 5 ERA, Hendricks’ 2+ MPH velocity decrease, and the lack of a fifth starter), Lester goes out every fifth day and gives Joe Maddon consistency.

The Chicago Cubs ace signed a six year, $155 million contract almost three years ago. I remember the reactions to the deal at the time, which were mostly positive, but not without criticism of the $25.8M AAV. Such a pricey contract for 31-year-old Lester was too much, I remember reading.

Well, since the Cubs signed Lester to that contract, he’s been one of the most durable, effective pitchers in Major League Baseball. He stands apart for one unique reason: health.

Not only has Lester been the eigth-most valuable starting pitcher (according to FIP, not RA/9) pitcher in MLB since 2015, he’s also been one of two pitchers without a visit to any doctor. Within the last three years, Clayton Kershaw had major back concerns; Chris Sale has had elbow, shoulder, and foot issues; Max Scherzer had finger joint scares; Corey Kluber had back pain; Madison Bumgarner just fell off a dirtbike; and David Price nearly faced Tommy John surgery.

In that time, the only injury scare in which Lester was involved was the curveball that hit David Ross’s mask en route to winninng Game 7 of the World Series.

Name Team Age ERA $ Worth IP Injury Last 3 Yrs?
1 Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 28 1.97 $138.60 453.1 Yes
2 Chris Sale Red Sox 27 3.22 $116.30 508.1 Yes
3 Max Scherzer Nationals 31 2.86 $108.70 525.1 Yes
4 Jake Arrieta Cubs 30 2.68 $95.60 483
5 Corey Kluber Indians 30 3.45 $88.60 474.1 Yes
6 Madison Bumgarner Giants 26 2.84 $87.80 472 Yes
7 David Price Red Sox 29 3.24 $87.30 450.1 Yes
8 Jon Lester Cubs 32 2.93 $86.50 469.2

Durability and consistency have been hallmarks of Lester’s tenure with the Cubs. And it’s not just that he’s gone out every fifth day without problem, it’s that every pitch has been consistent. According to Release:Tunnel, Baseball Prospectus’s new metric, Lester has been the most consistent pitcher in MLB on a pitch-to-pitch basis.

Realease:Tunnel is the “ratio of a pitcher’s release differential to their tunnel differential. Pitchers with smaller ratios have less differentiation between pitches through the tunnel point, making it more difficult for opposing hitters to distinguish them in theory.”

Theo Epstein and Company’s acquisition of Lester was the first sign that the Cubs were “going for it.” And the pitcher putting pen to paper was proof that the Cubs had indeed cultivated a unique culture, one appealing to even the staid pitcher.

“I don’t like change,” Lester said prior to signing in Chicago. “I like being where I’ve been. I like the people. I like the surroundings. It feels like home.”

And then the lefty took $13 million less to play for a team on the rise rather than one coming off of its third World Series crown in five seasons. Think about what that says about what the Cubs had put together.

All Lester has done since is pitch weekly without injury scare and without giving up many runs. Oh, he also anchored last year’s staff during that World Series run. Not a bad return on investment.

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