Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Jon Lester retires: All-Star lefty who helped Cubs end title drought calls it a career after 16 MLB seasons

Jon Lester, a veteran of 16 big-league seasons, announced his retirement from Major League Baseball to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers on Wednesday. Lester cited the physical toll as one of the main reasons he was hanging up his cleats. 

“It’s kind of run its course,” Lester told Rogers. “It’s getting harder for me physically. The little things that come up throughout the year turned into bigger things that hinder your performance.”

Lester, who celebrated his 38th birthday on Jan. 7, authored one of the most storied careers of his generation behind a three-pitch mix that included his fastball, a curveball, and a cutter that proved vital against right-handed hitters. He spent time with the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, and, to finish out last year, the St. Louis Cardinals

 In 452 regular-season appearances (all but one of them a start), Lester compiled a 3.66 ERA (117 ERA+) and a 2.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He finished with an even 200 wins, as well as 44.2 Wins Above Replacement, a figure that puts him outside of the average Hall of Fame pitcher — though the changing standards associated with the position could work in his favor.

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Here’s where Lester ranks among pitchers in several notable categories dating back to the last round of expansion (minimum: 1,000 innings):

  • Starts: 8th (451)
  • Innings pitched: 11th (2,740)
  • Wins: 9th (200)
  • ERA+: 35th (117)
  • WAR: 21st (44.2)

Lester’s case should also be bolstered by the aspects of his career not captured in those numbers. He was a five-time All-Star and a three-time World Series champion who had his rookie season delayed by a lymphoma diagnosis that required chemotherapy. Lester was nonetheless able to return to the Red Sox midseason, and he later threw 5 2/3 shutout innings in what proved to be his first of five World Series starts.

“That’s one of the top moments of my career,” Lester told Rogers about having his parents attend his first big-league start back after his diagnosis. “Seeing their faces was pretty cool. Once I got back to baseball, I tried not to take anything for granted and really appreciated being around the guys.”

Lester was later viewed as the addition that changed the Chicago Cubs into a legitimate contender when he signed a multi-year pact with them following the 2014 season. Fittingly, he’d go on to win the 2016 National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award after holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs over 13 innings. He then made three appearances in the World Series against the now-Cleveland Guardians, holding them to six earned runs in 14 2/3 innings as the Cubs claimed their first championship trophy in more than a century.

Though it doesn’t compare to Lester’s championship exploits, he too threw the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox franchise history when he blanked the Kansas City Royals in 2008.

That’s simply the way Lester’s career went: at every turn, he found a new achievement to mark off, a new legacy point to score. 

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