Comparing Jon Lester to other Opening Day Starters
Joe Maddon recently made the most obvious decision and named Jon Lester the Opening Day Starter. He was the Cubs Opening Day Starter in 2015 but was bumped to the number two spot after Arrieta’s CY Young winning season. While Arrieta still performed well in 2016 and Kyle Hendricks had a great season, Lester has been a model of consistency both with the Cubs and over his career. It was only logical to give the veteran, dependable lefty the opening day nod. The Cubs certainly have a luxury of quality starters to choose from for this job, which is not something they have always had. Let’s take a look at the Cubs Opening Day Starters since 2000 and how Lester compares to them.
The first few years of the 2000’s show the Cubs transitioning from the weak rotations of the late 90’s into the young group that would propel them to the playoffs in 2003. Jon Lieber headlined a very mediocre group of pitchers that also included Kevin Tapani, Jason Bere and Julian Taveraz to name a few. By 2003 the Cubs have a lot of great young pitching options in Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano which is one of the best collection of starters the Cubs have had. Unfortunately as we all remember that group was hammered by injuries.
Carlos Zambrano established himself as the opening day guy in 2005 and held onto it for quite a while. He may be the most frustrating pitcher on this list because at times he could be brilliant but his lack of control and his personality often got the best of him. The epic meltdowns and broken Gatorade machines are what I remember most about him. What is crazy is how much we have forgotten about him considering where he ranks statistically among Cubs pitchers. According to baseball-reference.com he ranks 9th all time among Cubs pitchers in WAR and is second in strikeouts. He was also one of the best hitting pitchers as he hit 24 homeruns over his career. He did all of this while playing over a decade with the Cubs. The rotations he led often featured some decent but unspectacular options behind him. Guys like Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Jason Marquis, Rich Harden and Rich Hill to name a few.
As Zambrano declined the Cubs headed toward the rebuild period that would last from 2010-2014. Ryan Dempster would briefly be the front man to the rotation but was traded mid season in 2012 and netted the Cubs one of their current stars in Kyle Hendricks. Jeff Samardzija succeeded Dempster as the front man and similarly was traded in mid season of 2014 to the A’s and as well all know that landed the Cubs Addison Russell. This current group of Cubs has three true opening starter option in Lester, Arrieta and Hendricks.
While Lester has never reached the highs of Arrieta’s 2015 season he has been consistently one of the top starters in baseball. Since he came into the majors in 2006 he has made 4 All-Star appearances, finished in the top 5 in CY Young voting 3 times and won 3 World Series. He proved to be the most dependable option in the Cubs World Series run and has clearly earned the trust of Joe Maddon. While he may not be as flashy or exciting as Jake Arrieta or other top starters in the league he can compete with any of them and has proven it over the course of his career.