Jon Lester has been nothing if not consistent. Since battling his way back lymphoma and becoming a regular member of the Boston Red Sox starting rotation in 2008, the lefthander has put up around 200 IP each year (the only time he missed was last year at 191) and had ERA’s in the low 3s. Now the question is whether he can take the next step and become a dominant ace.
When Lester takes the mound you always have the feeling he’s in complete command of the situation, from his stuff to his demeanor, but there are enough times that games get away from him and prevent the pitcher from achieving either the 20-win, or at least the sub-3.00 ERA that would mark him as a true #1 starter. Perhaps there’s something in the pitcher’s temperament holding him back. By all accounts the 28-year-old is a genuinely nice kid—even his participation in the Fenway Fried Chicken fiasco of last year is seen more as him getting caught up with the wrong people (Josh Beckett and John Lackey). And of the ringleaders, Lester was the one to express remorse.
But there’s a flip side to that goodheartedness, and it’s that maybe Lester doesn’ t have the nastiness necessary to reach a higher level of pitching. He’s listed at the top of the depth chart for Boston and maybe over a long season, he is the staff’s best pitcher. But for me, if it’s Game 1 of the playoffs—or this year, a one-game wild-card playoff showdown, I want Beckett on the mound.
With Lester still only being 28, there’s every reason to think he can find the next level. With his own reputation damaged last year and the team in transition, 2012 would be as good a year as any to prove it.