Did the Cubs Just Trade for a Younger Version of Jon Lester?

In case you haven’t heard, the Cubs just pulled off a blockbuster trade with the White Sox. By trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for LHP Jose Quintana, Theo Epstein and Company have accomplished a couple things.

One, they’ve added a young, controllable asset to the big league team without losing any big league talent in return. Next, they’ve sent a message to the clubhouse — one that has the potential to be enormously impactful — that the front office believes in this team, regardless of their performance so far this season. This is as big as it gets for the Cubs.

In Quintana, the Cubs now have a front-of-the-rotation guy who can anchor their starting five well into the future. They’ve just taken a huge question mark when looking beyond 2017 and have provided some semblance of stability and clarity. And that’s just the obvious impact from adding Quintana.

I spent some time looking at Jon Lester’s stats over the season, and his career, just a few days ago. When I pulled up Quintana’s stats today, the first thing that popped out to me was just how similar some of those numbers were across both lines. Sure, they’re very different pitchers with quite different repertoires, but comparing their stats was quite an interesting undertaking.

Take a look and I’ll meet you below.

Jon Lester ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2016 2.44 3.41 3.47 8.75 2.31 0.93
2017 4.25 3.97 3.74 9.17 3.08 1.25
’17 B/(W) than ’16 (1.81) (0.56) (0.27) 0.42 (0.77) (0.32)
Career 3.48 3.52 3.59 8.4 2.9 0.84


Jose Quintana ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2016 3.2 3.56 4.03 7.83 2.16 0.95
2017 4.49 4.01 4.13 9.4 3.45 1.21
’17 B/(W) than ’16 (1.29) (0.45) (0.10) 1.57 (1.29) (0.26)
Career 3.51 3.52 3.82 7.59 2.42 0.84

Pretty interesting, huh?

The first thing that pops out is their year-over-year comparisons. Good or bad, they both appear to be trending in a similar direction. Is this a coincidence or could it be more of a reflection of rumored changes to the makeup of baseballs? That’s a whole different ball of wax that I won’t get into today, but it’s worth noting here.

The most significant YOY change, at least to me, is that Quintana has 1.57 more K/9 and 1.29 more BB/9 in 2017. We see a similar directional trend from Lester but not nearly as big. Quintana’s K% has jumped a very significant three points this season (from 21.6 to 24.6), while Lester’s  has been fairly steady at 24.8 percent in 2016 verses 24.1 percent this season.

Both pitchers are walking more batters this season, with Quintana’s BB% going from 6 to 9 percent and Lester’s jumping to 8.1 percent from 6.5 last season.

Now let’s take a look at those career numbers, shall we?

The overall stats are eerily similar but with a couple noticeable differences, the biggest of which is that Lester has an 8.4 K/9 as compared to Quintana’s 7.59 K/9. You see where I’m going, right?

Quintana is striking out more batters in 2017 than he did in 2016. So, while the biggest difference between Lester and Quintana over their careers is clearly K/9 — Lester is .81 K/9 better — Quintana is showing that he’s heading in the same direction as Lester.

So by swinging this deal, the Cubs now have a guy who, at least on paper, looks an awful lot like Jon Lester. Except he’s five years younger. And they control him through 2020. For around $34 million dollars.

Just let that sink in.

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