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Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Lockout Files - Jon Lester Hangs ‘Em Up

After 16 years, 200 wins and three World Series titles Jon Lester is hanging up his spikes.  I have to admit I never really warmed to Jon Lester.  He always had an A-Rodian quality of seeming fake.  I never got the impression he was someone I would want to hang out with, have a beer and shoot the ####.  But hot damn could the man pitch.  Lester was an old school starter taking the ball every fifth day and stubbornly grinding it out making 30+ starts twelve years in a row. Of course when discussing Lester’s on field resume no discussion is complete without discussing his big game quality.  In six World Series games he was 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA and overall in the post-season he was 9-7 with a 2.51 ERA in 22 starts (26 appearances).  With a bit of luck his big game resume looks even more impressive but he didn’t get any help despite making very good starts in game seven of the 2008 ALCS (7 IP, 3 runs, 0 BB, 8 K) and the final day of the 2011 season (6 IP, 2 runs).  And oh yeah, and I mean “oh yeah” in that I completely forgot to include this, he threw a ####### no hitter.

But the Jon Lester story ultimately is about so much more than his on field prowess.  Battling cancer at age 22, no let me start that sentence again.  BEATING cancer at age 22 and by all accounts he has been a rock of support when other players (notably Anthony Rizzo) in the Sox’ system have fallen ill.  It is impossible to speak of Jon Lester and not talk about that element.  Whatever I perceived of his personality that kind of thing says a hell of a lot more about him than some jackass’ opinion while sitting in his boxer shorts on his couch.

One of the fascinating things about Lester’s career was watching him evolve.  The stubbornness that made him so good could also be a hindrance. It seemed that at times he was loathe to change and adjust (see 2012) but eventually he got there.  When he arrived in the Majors (I was in attendance at his MLB debut) he had an Andy Pettitte quality to him.  He wasn’t coming with overwhelming stuff, he didn’t throw 97, he didn’t have a wipeout breaking ball, he just would move up and down, in and out and spot his fastball.  He was what they used to call a comfortable 0 for 4.  Maybe the most amazing thing about Lester the early-20s pitcher is that he had a great pickoff move.  I’m not sure what happened to change that but 24 pickoffs his first six years tell a story.  One of the things I always found amusing about Lester was that he was SUCH a bad hitter.  He was fairly athletic and when he got in the box he looked the part.  Nice stance, bat ready to go, every thing looked right up until the moment he swung when he looked like a 4 year old on a sugar high. That 0 for 66 to start his career was earned honestly.

But in the end the Jon Lester story is one of perseverance and success.  When we look back at that amazing era of Red Sox success Lester is a critical component.  He arrived a young man, quickly became a mainstay and was the rock of a rotation starting game one of a post-season series 12 times (well eleven plus a Wild Card game). He beat all comers including cancer and walks away with 200 wins and three ringzzzz. That’ll do pig, that’ll do.  I’m sure much of the discussion will now center on his Hall of Fame candidacy because of course we can’t determine if someone was any good without the validation of a bunch of sportswriters who long for the good ol’ days.  For me ultimately I’ll remember Lester fondly.  As I said, he wasn’t my favorite player but he was a damned good player who helped my team succeed for many years.  Best of luck in retirement Jon!

Jose is Absurdly Correct but not Helpful Posted: January 12, 2022 at 08:19 AM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Darren Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:09 AM (#6060923)
One of the things I always found amusing about Lester was that he was SUCH a bad hitter. He was fairly athletic and when he got in the box he looked the part. Nice stance, bat ready to go, every thing looked right up until the moment he swung when he looked like a 4 year old on a sugar high. That 0 for 66 to start his career was earned honestly.


Some folks have pointed out that, although he was so bad to start, he worked hard and managed to become a pretty average hitter for a pitcher. From 2017-2021, he hit .153 .195 .244 with 4 HR!
   2. villageidiom Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:30 AM (#6060925)
I have to admit I never really warmed to Jon Lester.  He always had an A-Rodian quality of seeming fake.
I never got that sense.
Whatever I perceived of his personality that kind of thing says a hell of a lot more about him than some jackass’ opinion while sitting in his boxer shorts on his couch.
True, and also I now have a disturbing mental image. I don't think I've ever seen an uglier couch.
Of course when discussing Lester’s on field resume no discussion is complete without discussing his big game quality.  In six World Series games he was 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA and overall in the post-season he was 9-7 with a 2.51 ERA in 22 starts (26 appearances).
That's the thing that sticks with me. I don't think there was any point when I lacked confidence in the Red Sox in the playoffs when I knew he was lined up to pitch. It was great. He was great.
   3. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:40 AM (#6060927)
Nice writeup. He's one of those guys whose whole arc of prospect/majors/free agency/retirement I have "followed" with you fellas on Primer/Sox Therapy/RLRS Blog.
   4. Darren Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:41 AM (#6060928)
There is a lot of talk today about how Lester should have been on the Red Sox for his whole career, with even John Henry having admitted at one point that he thought they blew the negotiations. I'll start by saying that yes, I would have liked to have Lester on the team for his whole career. He was very good and great at times, a homegrown player, and fun to root for. But I disagree with the idea that the Red Sox somehow blew it with him.

The Red Sox initial offer was 4 years, $70 mil., which sounds ridiculously low when you consider that he eventually got 6/156. But take a look back at how Lester was pitching at the time and it doesn't seem ridiculous at all. After a stretch as a dominant starter from 2008-2011, he took a large step back. In 2012, he he was replacement level, and then with some adjustments, had settled in as a good-not-great starter in 2013 (2.7 WAR). Offering him 4/70 was essentially seeing him as a valuable starter, but not an ace going forward. A bit low, maybe, but not an insult.

Unable to sign him, they went another way and traded him for Cespedes, who they then dealt for Porcello--who they then signed to a 5/95 deal. With the benefit of hindsight, how did they fare?

Lester, 2015-20 (6 years, ~$144 mil due to shortened 2020)
1,002.1 IP, 13.2 WAR

Porcello, 2015-2019 (5 years, $95 mil)
964 IP, 9.3 WAR

Looks like Porcello was a slight overpay and Lester was a big overpay. The Sox really made the right move here, despite how painful it was.


And what of that 4/70 offer? Had he accepted it, the Red Sox would have gotten 12 WAR for $70 mil, about $6 mil/WAR. That's a very good deal for the Sox, so maybe it should have been higher. Lester has said since that he would have signed for 6/120, but a) take that with a grain of salt and b) even that would have been pricey for his production.


   5. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:47 AM (#6060931)
Porcello, 2015-2019 (5 years, $95 mil)
964 IP, 9.3 WAR

Looks like Porcello was a slight overpay and Lester was a big overpay. The Sox really made the right move here, despite how painful it was.
Shouldn't value of the 1 year of Cespedes and few years of Alex Wilson be added to the Porcello cost?
   6. Darren Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:53 AM (#6060934)
It should, but I am lazy. Also, Wilson was better than I remembered and Cespedes was good for the Sox but it was a year they were punting so I'm not sure how much value he provided there.
   7. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 11:57 AM (#6060935)
No I meant the value of having Cespedes for 2015 (instead of trading him for Porcello), not what he gave them in 2014.
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 12:12 PM (#6060941)
Is he the last player from the Sox teams of the aughts that was active? Is Rich Hill from the 2010 team as far back as it goes?

edit: nope, Daniel Bard played for the '09 team and I assume he'll be active again in 2022.
   9. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: January 13, 2022 at 12:45 PM (#6060949)
Hindsight makes this exercise a lot easier, but if you look at the Porcello vs Lester choice, it turns out that there were three years where Lester was very good-to-excellent:

In 2015, he was better than Porcello, but the Red Sox were going nowhere, anyway
In 2016, where Lester finished 2nd in the NL CY Young...but Porcello won the AL Cy Young the same year
In 2018, where he was better than Porcello, but the Red Sox won the World Series and had a dominant season, so this clearly worked out for Boston.

Porcello was cheaper, and his contract was shorter, and he was generally quite durable. He won a Cy Young during the contract, and they won a World Series during the contract. It's all good.
   10. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 01:10 PM (#6060953)
In 2015, he was better than Porcello, but the Red Sox were going nowhere, anyway
Now, hold the phone. This came up in the other thread: https://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/sox_therapy/discussion/the_lockout_files_what_couldve_been/

FWIW in 2015 Porcello and Hanley totaled -0.2 WAR for the Red Sox, and Lester, Cespedes, and Alex Wilson combined for 10.9 WAR for other teams.
   11. Darren Posted: January 13, 2022 at 01:11 PM (#6060954)

No I meant the value of having Cespedes for 2015 (instead of trading him for Porcello), not what he gave them in 2014.


I was looking at it more from the point of view of keeping Lester vs. trading Lester at the deadline and doing what followed. But you're right, if you're looking at the decision they made the following offseason, they could have kept Cespedes (and Wilson) AND signed Lester. Those two cost $36 mil in AAV for the 2015 season so there probably would have had to be other moves to allow that.
   12. Nasty Nate Posted: January 13, 2022 at 01:30 PM (#6060960)
It's funny that the Lester retirement is prompting so much discussion about a squad he wasn't even on. The 2015 team is somewhat of an interesting failure, in that so many resources and so much talent was involved and they ended up a mis-aligned cluster-####. And then most of the same guys came back and won the division the next year.

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