CC’s Meltdown Could Greatly Enrich Jon Lester

Five million bucks. That is what CC Sabathia may have cost the Red Sox last night. But the Red Sox loss is Jon Lester’s gain and because CC soiled himself last night, Jon Lester may find himself un-tethered  to a below-market option in 2014.

Here are the details. Lester is signed for the next three years at $5.75M, $7.625M and $11.625M. And in 2014, according to Cot’s, the Sox hold a very team-friendly $13M option on Lester provided he DOESN’T finish first or second in the AL Cy Young Award voting in any one year. Heading into last night, a top-two finish in 2010 seemed highly unlikely despite Lester’s strong close. But after watching CC vomit all over himself in the fifth inning last night, Lester might be back in the discussion for that runner-up spot.

It seems likely at this point that Felix Hernandez has overcome the voters traditional bias towards “wins” and will prevail in the final voting. Simply put, he has had the best season and yesterday’s eight strong innings did nothing but strengthen his candidacy. So mark the King down for his second CYA in two years.

Now heading into last night, CC was running neck and neck with Felix, principally because he seemed assured of locking up the stupid vote. For background, these voters are enamored with wins and innings but tend to overlook everything else that isolates a pitcher’s performance. And along these lines, CC shows well.

But check out how CC’s resume now compares to Lester. To illustrate, I will list some metrics and give each pitcher’s league-wide rank:

                                ERA        ERA+     WHIP     H/9         SO/9     

Lester                   6              4              7              4              1

Sabathia               8              8              12           13           17

Moreover, Lester’s FIP is much better than CC, his xFIP is much better and his WAR is marginally better. Basically, by every measure other than wins and innings, Lester had the better season. Now I can’t speak for the sabre-head’s but they have used all these metrics to push the candidacy of Felix over CC and Lester’s case isn’t burdened by Felix’s low win total.  

If all this isn’t enough, there is also the “quality of competition” blemish that absolutely destroys CC’s resume. As I have mentioned in the past, CC absolutely won the lottery this season when it came to which teams he faced. No sense re-hashing it all but this pretty much sums it up: The Yankees played fourteen series against the four worst offenses in the AL this season and CC pitched in EVERY one of them. His totals in those series: 10-3 with an ERA of 2.68. His ERA against the rest of the league …. 3.71. If I had that kind of luck, I would have already pocketed two powerball wins and there is no way that bolt of lightning would have grazed me back in 96.

So as it stands right now, Lester (or Trevor Cahill) is probably deserving of the runner-up spot even though CC may still have the votes. But what last night did is open the door for Lester to sneak through. Two nice starts to finish off the season and something ordinary from CC could be enough to get Lester out from under that option. And given his career progression, it sure seems like he will be able to make a lot more in 2014 than a measly $13M. Given the current market, it seems Lester has at least five million riding on these last two starts. He has CC to thank for that.  

[I know, I know, Lester still has three more years to get out from under this option and his progression would suggest a fairly decent likelihood this happens. So yes, I admit I used this “option” thesis as a pretext for writing a column that simply illustrates the superiority of Lester to Sabathia.]

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