Last week, 16-year MLB veteran pitcher Jon Lester announced his retirement from baseball. A three-time World Series champion, Lester warrants the debate of whether or not he deserves to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. So, here it is.
When it comes to making a case for the guy to be inducted into the Hall, there are a few things that specifically need to be considered.
- What did he achieve personally? We should consider the number of All-Star Games he made, accolades he was given, and whether or not he was ever the best at his position.
- How long was his peak? Every player has a distinctive peak where you can see their increase in statistical production, then a notable decline.
- What was his role on title-winning teams? Consider whether he rose to the occasion and what kind of leadership he showed.
Lester spent his 16 years with a total of five teams. With short stints with the Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals, and St. Louis Cardinals, he spent the majority of his career with the Boston Red Sox (nine years) and Chicago Cubs (six years). To get a good idea of what he accomplished on a personal level, let’s take a look at what Lester put together with his two primary clubs.
The Boston Years
Lester made his MLB debut with the Red Sox on June 10, 2006, at age 22. He pitched 4.1 innings against the Texas Rangers and allowed five hits, walked and struck out four, and allowed three earned runs in a no-decision. He started 15 games for the Red Sox that season and finished with a 7-2 record and 4.76 ERA. Not bad for a guy who would go on to spend the offseason and much of the 2007 season battling anaplastic large cell lymphoma. (We’ll get to 2007 in a minute.)
Overall, the southpaw put together nine solid seasons with the Red Sox with a 110-63 record and a 3.64 ERA. He led the American League in shutouts in 2008 with two and also led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings in 2010 with 9.7. He was named to three All-Star teams in 2010, 1011, and 2014, after which he was traded with an expiring contract. He also finished top-five in the Cy Young voting in 2010 and 2014.
The Red Sox won two World Series titles during Lester’s tenure, and he played a significant role on both teams. While he made only three appearances in the 2007 title run, Lester put together a strong performance in the close-out game 4 over the Colorado Rockies with a three-hit, shutout effort over 5.2 innings. Lester was the veteran presence on the 2013 Red Sox pitching staff as he effectively shut down the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, and Cardinals for another title.
The Chicago Years
Just a few weeks after the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, Lester was traded to the A’s as a rental for Oakland’s postseason push. The A’s were eliminated in the Wild Card round, and Lester went into free agency. He signed with the Chicago Cubs on December 15, 2014. He was to be the anchor of a pitching staff that was meant to help the Cubs break the curse of the billy goat. After a disappointing 2015, Lester and the Cubs put together a dream-worthy season and won the World Series in 2016. Lester led the National League with a .792 winning percentage and was named to the NL All-Star team. He was named the NLCS MVP after the Cubs eliminated the LA Dodgers, then helped the Cubs defeat the Cleveland Indians in seven games.
After six years in Chicago, Lester demonstrated a level of consistency that most can only dream of. He duplicated both his winning percentage and ERA from Boston with a .636 winning percentage and a 3.64 ERA. He was also named to the NL All-Star team in 2018 when he led the NL with 18 wins.
Though Lester never won a Cy Young or MVP, he was the anchor for pitching staffs that climbed the mountaintop. The role that a player of Lester’s caliber played for his teams to win three World Series titles, in addition to the numbers he put up, should get him in the Hall of Fame. With a lack of Cy Young awards and only five All-Star appearances, it might take him a year or two to get in.