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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2015 FANTASY BASEBALL PLAYER ANALYZER: JON LESTER SP CHICAGO CUBS

The prized free agent pitching jewel of the 2015 Hot Stove Season finally signed on the dotted line late Tuesday as lefty Jon Lester inked a six-year deal with the Chicago Cubs for a staggering total of $155 million.  Lester gets reunited with his former GM in Boston in the form of Theo Epstein who made his former ace the main part of his team's offseason makeover.  As far as Lester is now concerned, he moves into the National League for the first time in his career which alone is very intriguing in fantasy baseball terms.  With that said, let's take an updated look at what Lester could provide his prospective owners for the 2015 season.

Turning only 31 in January, Jon Lester remains in the prime of his pitching career and times his best overall season in 2014 split between the Red Sox and Oakland A's to help cash in big time.  Lester was dominant from April through September as he compiled the following numbers that were as good as any starter in baseball last season:

16-11
2.46 ERA
1.09 WHIP
222 K's

The numbers above put Lester squarely into the fantasy baseball ace category as the ERA and WHIP were by far as career-best (almost a full run lower than his previous ERA low) and the 222 K;s were the first time he passed the 200 strikeout mark since 2010 (and third overall).  No matter how you slice it, Lester was incredible all the way around.  Now ordinarily we would throw some caution to the wind after such a huge career season, even out of a veteran guy like Lester but his move to the NL and the Cubs changes that habit.  The fact Lester was able to post a Cy Young-worthy season in 2014 entirely in the American League and to post other big-time seasons earlier in his career with the Red Sox in by far the best hitting division in the game means his move to the NL could results in slightly even  BETTER numbers if you can believe it.  We don't have to remind you how going from the AL to the NL as a starting pitcher typically results in an ERA drop of at least half a run and an uptick in strikeouts as well due to the much weaker lineups and not having to face the DH.  Lester will have a field day in the weak NL Central, punching out pitchers and the typically weak bottom of opposing orders in that division. 

Now as far as the numbers are concerned, Lester is as good as any pitcher in baseball when it comes to the potency of his stuff.  A solidly built 6-4 and 240 pounds, Lester can ramp the fastball to the upper 90's and his secondary stuff is terrific which generate a ton of swings and misses.  Lester posted one of the better hit rates in baseball last season and he did the same in his other two 200-plus strikeout campaigns with the Red Sox.  The lefty is a lock for another 200 strikeouts in his first season in the NL and passing 230 is possible given the reasons we already spoke of.  In addition to the strikeout boost, Lester is guaranteed a terrific ERA in the NL as well.  As I noted earlier, the 2.46 ERA Lester posted last season was by far his career-low which makes me somewhat leery of saying he will better that mark, even in the NL.  I see Lester more in the 2.75 mode even with the move to the NL as we always have to go with a player's career norms when projecting stats.  Even when Lester struck out 225 batters in 2009 and 2010 with the Red Sox, his ERA came in at a very good 3.41 and 3.25 which obviously is no anywhere near 2.46.  Still anything under 3.00 is top-notch. 

Moving right along, the WHIP has been one area that Lester has struggled with as his career mark is a shaky 1.28 even with last season's 1.09 factored in.  Lester tends to walk more than a few batters which is his only glaring issue outside of some home runs given up.  Still Lester walked only 48 batters last season which was his lowest mark ever since becoming a regular starter which helped him get to his 1.09 mark.  The days of Lester posting 1.25 and higher WHIP's while striking out 200 and pitching to ERA's in the low 3.00-range are finished now that he has moved to the NL and become a more complete pitcher in his 30's.  I wouldn't even be surprised if Lester pushed the WHIP down to 1.06 or so given the move to the NL. 

Last but not least are the wins which many would assume is a problem with the perennially poor Cubs.  Well the Cubs are a much better team this season than they were a year ago and Lester should be at or above 15 wins on his talent alone.  While a run at 20 is likely out of the question for this season, Lester will do his share to help you in wins overall.

When you put it all together, Jon Lester is as good a rotation anchor as any pitcher in fantasy baseball.  While he is a step below the Clayton Kershaw's and Max Scherzer's of the world, the fact Lester comes cheaper than those two and still provide ace numbers actually make him the better investment as you want to stock up on hitters early on in the draft.  Lester is extremely durable which is a bonus many ignore when evaluating players and his numbers stack up as a number 1 guy.  His move to the NL will ensure another top season and so Lester clearly fits the bill as a guy who can be the top dog in your rotation.

2015 PROJECTION:  17-7 2.67 ERA 1.08 WHIP 232 K

 
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