One of the big stories in the next few weeks is that Jon Lester is likely to be either re-signed or established as a major trade chip for the selling Sox. The temptation is to see Lester as someone who should be re-signed and I will admit if it were me I would go 5/120 and I think that would do it.
I think some of the chatter both among people at this blog and in other places are elevating Lester beyond what he should be. Lester is going to be 31 years old next year and while his track record of health is good one need only look at C.C. Sabathia who signed an extension between his age 30 and 31 seasons as an example of the type of risk that exists.
With that in mind I thought I would take a tour of Jon’s BBRef page; specifically the list of pitchers most similar to him through age 29 (the last year they have for him) to see how they panned out in the five years after their age 30 season. This is hardly a conclusive approach but I think it is worth considering;
Age 30 – 192 IP, 147 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 156 starts, 96 ERA+
Not a great start here. Millwood’s age 30 season is really an outlier as 2003 had been OK and 2004 disappointing when he rebounded in 2005. Millwood was healthy those next five seasons but largely ineffective.
more comps coming right up!
Age 30 – 134.2 IP, 135 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 150 starts, 120 ERA+
That is more like it. Pettitte has always been a good comp for Lester. Both are big lefties, durable and very good generating more value than their rate stats would have you believe by virtue of that durability. Lester’s agent John Yates will likely make the same arguments.
Age 30 – 127.2 IP, 75 ERA+
Age 31 – 34 – 83 starts, 113 ERA+
I have to confess I would not have pegged Beckett as either that good or with that many starts over the past 3 ½ seasons. Given the way he has moved forward he is a point in Lester’s favor. Of course stylistically the enigmatic Beckett is a long way from the metronomic Lester.
Age 30 – 1.2 IP, 48 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – N/A
Just a hunch but Yates may conveniently “forget” about Mulder when he is laying out comps for Lester. The reality is that Mulder was toast by the time he was 28.
Age 30 – 176.1 IP, 115 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 108 starts, 93 ERA+
In Lackey’s case the age 30 season is his final one as a Halo. I think it is safe to assume you are pretty aware of what the next five years held for Lackey. As a rule of thumb my M.O. with pitchers is to assume at least one lost season out of five due to injury either causing missed time or greatly reduced effectiveness. That Lackey lost two seasons; one to sucking and one to surgery, is down to the Sox’ quality medical staff.
Age 30 – 192 IP, 95 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 24 starts, 87 ERA+
McDowell’s age 31-35 seasons stop at age 33 with his final season of 1999. McDowell was Lester-esque with his reliability both in performance and taking the baseball before a bad 1996 season. That proved to be a harbinger rather than an aberration.
Age 30 – 199 IP, 102 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 84 starts, 95 ERA+
Cy Young notwithstanding Hentgen was never the pitcher Lester has been on a consistent basis. That continued in his 30s with Hentgen alternative not being very good with not being very healthy.
Age 30 – 242 IP, 120 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 102 starts, 96 ERA+
Colon’s age 31-35 seasons include the Cy Young that he unquestionably earned over lesser pitchers like Johan Santana and his aborted stint with the Red Sox. Suffice it to say that was an up and down period. Actually, the seven start effort with the Sox in 2008 was his second best ERA of the five.
Age 30 – 111.2 IP, 88 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 73 starts, 107 ERA+
Given that 2014 is Peavy’s age 33 season I am comfortable forecasting that 107 ERA+ to go down. Peavy was having injury issues in his age 28-30 seasons (51 starts total) and returned with a strong age 31 season in 2012. He has not built on that over the last couple of seasons.
Age 30 – 225.1 IP, 121 ERA+
Age 31 – 35 – 155 starts, 145 ERA+
Along with Pettitte this represents the best case scenario for the team signing Lester moving forward. Halladay’s age 31-35 seasons are virtually indistinguishable from his age 26-30 seasons and this is what some team will be spending a lot of money on with Jon Lester.
Ultimately nothing is certain here. One piece of good news here is that for the most part this supports the idea that good prior health is an indicator of good future health. The pitchers who struggled to stay health and effective from age 31 to 35 were pitchers who had that problem prior to age 31. That they had similar numbers to Lester is indicative of a more peaks and valleys career (e.g. Beckett).
I am still more than a bit skeptical about a Lester deal. Pitchers scare the crap out of me which should be a mark in his favor given what I just wrote. I cannot watch what Sabathia is going through right now and not think that Jon Lester’s path is going to be similar. Everything you would say about Lester in terms of performance and durability was true about Sabathia until it was not anymore. Heck, Sabathia even mixed in the second best K rate of his career at age 30 (Lester’s is currently third best of his career).
Looking at this list of comps makes me feel a bit more confident in Lester’s future. I will close with the prediction that at some point over the All Star Break the Sox and Lester will announce a contract extension that keeps him in carmine hose for many years to come.