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Comparing Jon Lester to other Opening Day Starters

Written by , Posted in General

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.

Year Name IP W-L ERA/FIP K-BB WAR
2016 Arrieta 197.1 18-8 3.10/3.52 190-76 3.8
2015 Lester 205 11-12 3.34/2.92 207-47 5.0
2014 Samardzija 219.2 7-13 2.90/3.20 202-43 4.1
2013 Samardzija 213.2 8-13 4.34/3.77 214-78 2.7
2012 Dempster 173 12-8 3.38/3.69 153-52 2.8
2011 Dempster 202.1 10-14 4.80/3.90 191-82 2.5
2010 Zambrano 129.2 11-6 3.33/3.71 117-69 2.0
2009 Zambrano 169.1 9-7 3.77/3.61 152-78 3.7
2008 Zambrano 188.2 14-6 3.91/4.23 130-72 2.8
2007 Zambrano 216.1 18-13 3.95/4.58 177-101 2.8
2006 Zambrano 214 16-7 3.41/4.14 210-115 3.9
2005 Zambrano 223 14-6 3.26/3.70 202-86 4.2
2004 Wood 140.1 8-9 3.72/3.80 144-51 2.9
2003 Wood 211 14-11 3.20/3.71 266-100 4.2
2002 Lieber 141 6-8 3.70/3.39 87-12 3.1
2001 Lieber 232.1 20-6 3.80/3.79 148-41 4.4
2000 Lieber 251 12-11 4.41/4.23 192-54 4.4

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.

  • Brad Lyerla

    Good post. I have my opening day ticket. Now I am going back to work. That is all.

    • JTBarrett16

      Are you joining us for San Diego? Opening Day is fun. I went in 2014, and it has a different feel to it than other games. Of course, this year is a little more special.

      • Brad Lyerla

        Would love to. But I have to figure logistics. At the moment, I am swamped with a problem at work. Might be under water for a bit.

      • JTBarrett16

        May 29-31. Memorial Day and then Tuesday and Wednesday

  • Doc Raker

    I always liked Jon Lieber and Ted Lilly, I thought they were underrated.

    Cubs vs. Texas are on MLB Network tonight, let’s hope it is the Texas broadcast that is used and not Lame Len.

    The Mets spring training games are on MLB Network every day. Another sign of East Coast bias. Who are the reigning World Series Champions? Hint: Not the Mets.

    • JTBarrett16

      Lieber was one of my favorites too.

  • Doc Raker

    Good news, Cubs vs Texas is at the Texas complex and the Cubs web site does not have the game being broadcast by the Cubs TV network of choice so most probably it is the Texas broadcast or MLB’s own broadcast. Unless MLB Network hired Lame Len to do the broadcast. MLB Network can’t be that dumb can they?

    • JTBarrett16

      What time is the game? Usually a regular season game when they’re syndicating it, MLBN uses the home feed. If it’s Len on the feed, does it count towards your 3.5 over/under on Len broadcasts? And is this Cubs Len broadcasts, or any broadcast with Len, including national games that he works involving the Cubs?

      • Doc Raker

        Spring training games do not count toward a season over under bet.

      • JTBarrett16

        Does a Cubs game on national tv where Len is on the call count towards the 3.5 as Len broadcasts?

      • Doug S.

        Only if Almora hits a salami.

      • JTBarrett16

        How did Len score it?

      • Doc Raker

        As a hit. Saw the slam, nice.