Jon Lester was a five-time All-Star, won 200 games, and was a Top 4 finisher in Cy Young voting in three seasons. However, when fans look back on his career, more likely than not, he will be remembered for what he did in the playoffs. He is one of the all-time great starting pitchers in the postseason, playing a critical role for three championship teams.
From the beginning of his career, Jon Lester was a great playoff performer.
As a starting pitcher, he didn’t give up an earned run until his fourth postseason start. His first 16 innings in the World Series were scoreless. In total, he made five starts in the World Series and compiled a 4-1 record with a 1.77 ERA, only giving up more than two earned runs once (three earned runs in Game 1 of 2016, his lone loss). Among those great starts are two critical Game 5 wins (2013 and 2016) and the World Series-clinching win in 2007.
As a fan, if Lester was pitching in a playoff game, you always felt your team had a chance … and you were pretty much always right. Some might not be impressed by his 9-7 career playoff record. However, if you look a little closer, you can see he actually suffered some bad luck (and little run support) in the playoffs. Five times he went at least six innings and gave up one run or fewer and received a no-decision or a loss. And there is no game where he pitched poorly and earned a win. His worst performance in a win? That was 5.1 innings and a pair of earned runs in Game 5 of the 2013 ALCS.
How about his performance in elimination games? He was 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA. Games 5-7 of a series? He was 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA. Every time he went out there, his team was given a chance to win. Chicago Cubs fans certainly credit Lester as being a huge part of ending the longest championship drought in major American sports. When you look at his performance in the NLCS (winning MVP), Game 5 of the World Series, and in three innings of relief in Game 7, it’s not hard to see why.
It’s not a stretch to say Lester is one of the great playoff pitchers of his generation, and perhaps one of the greats in history. He pitched in a lot of playoff games and was consistently very good to great. His 154 innings pitched ranks eighth all-time in the Major League Baseball postseason and the list of those players with more innings are all household names: Andy Pettitte, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander. Lester’s postseason ERA is better than all of them and by no small margin.
Lester just had another gear when it mattered most. His career regular season numbers are all very good (200-117 record, 3.66 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 8.2 K/9, and a 1.278 WHIP), but they are comparable to guys like Felix Hernandez and Kevin Appier. But his playoff numbers are another level — 2.51 ERA, 2.3 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, and 1.019 WHIP. That’s over a full run better ERA and 20 percent fewer baserunners against the league’s best teams on the biggest stage.
In the end, Jon Lester had a career that probably falls short of the Hall of Fame, but he’s a legend in Boston and Chicago and no one is forgetting that anytime soon.