Late last night, it was reported that Cliff Lee had decided to accept an offer from one of his former teams, the Philadelphia Phillies. Lee, though he took a little less money to return to Philly, will be paid like a king and be locked up until 2015 (option for 2016). In 2014, Jon Lester will be 30 years old, or five years younger than Cliff Lee. He’ll also be making somewhere around $10M less than Lee*, but likely be a far better pitcher.
*Lester has a $13M club option in his contract that is voided if he finishes first or second in Cy Young Award voting (via Cot’s Contracts), which is a good possibility.
For now, I’ll save looking further into Lester’s future for another time. Instead, let’s take a look at what to expect in 2011.
Jon Lester 2011 Projection:
The one thing that Lester struggled with in 2010 was inconsistent command/control, mostly in April, August and September. Since he was extremely consistent with his walk rates from 2008 to 2009 (2.82 BB/9 and 2.83 BB/9), I have him projected to come back toward those numbers in 2011. That bounce-back in walk rate will be fantastically paired with another season of top-notch strikeout numbers. For two straight seasons now, Lester has posted a whiff rates over 23 percent.
One of Lester’s big adjustments in 2010 was the increase in use of a cutter and two-seam fastball. He also complimented his fastball by using more changeups and fewer sliders. This change in approach led to an increase in ground ball rate to over 50 percent for the first time in his big league career. Also, for the second straight season, Lester lowered his line drive rate against.
With an improved offense and a solid all around defense to support him, Lester has a very good chance to break the 20 win mark in 2011.
Combine all of the factors above and you have a pitcher primed to stare down the American League Cy Young award. Not that Lester was that far off in 2010 — he finished fourth in the voting. The sky may truly be the limit for Boston’s new ace.