MLB Predictions: 10 Reasons the Red Sox' Jon Lester Will Win 2011 Cy Young Award
Jon Lester is a name known throughout Major League Baseball as much for his battle with cancer as his pitching ability.
Lester had solid 2008 and 2009 seasons for the Red Sox before a serious coming out party in 2010. With a 19-9 record and a 3.25 ERA, Lester attended his first All Star Game and finished fourth in Cy Young voting.
All signs point to Lester, 27, continuing to improve in 2011. With a revamped roster and loftier expectations he is due for a stellar season.
Here are ten reasons that Jon Lester will add some hardware to his name as the 2011 American League Cy Young Award Winner.
Last season, Lester posted a career best in wins, strikeouts, WHIP, complete games, H/9, and HR/9.
He wore down slightly in the second half but as he becomes older and builds his arm Lester will grow more accustomed to the grueling 162-game schedule.
Lester's second half ERA rose by over a run and his WHIP jumped from 1.09 before the break to 1.35 post All Star break.
If Lester can duplicate his 2.78 first half ERA over a full season he should put himself in the running as one of the best pitchers in the game.
Red Sox Improved Offense
The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford created much buzz around Boston and for good reason.
With Crawford setting the table atop the lineup and Gonzalez cleaning it up with his power, the Sox should see a significant spike in their offense.
The Red Sox finished second in the league in runs scored in 2010. But, with their two new additions and presumed healthier seasons from Youkilis, Pedroia, and Ellsbury, the Sox could have far and away the most potent hitting in baseball.
This can only mean good things for Lester who could have his first 20-win season in the big leagues.
Red Sox Improved Defense
It is difficult to argue that any team can improve their defense after losing defensive whiz Adrian Beltre at third.
However, the Red Sox will send the consistent and athletic 2007 gold glove winner Kevin Youkilis over to third base due to the addition of two time gold glove winner Adrian Gonzalez at first.
Up the middle Dustin Pedroia is as good as any second basemen and was rewarded with a 2008 gold glove award. At shortstop, Marco Scutaro is rarely flashy but is as steady as they come.
The Sox also expect to have the speed of Jacoby Ellsbury back patrolling center field. Newly acquired Carl Crawford is also fresh off his first gold glove in 2010.
As if that was not enough, three-time gold glove winner and highly regarded outfielder Mike Cameron is likely to see significant time as the Sox' fourth outfielder.
The speed, consistency, and experience of these fielders can only help all the pitchers on the Sox staff this season including Jon Lester.
If you had asked anyone about Lester in 2006, durability might have been the main red flag that would hinder him in his career.
However, after a difficult battle with lymphoma, Lester was declared cancer free in 2007 and back on the fast track to Boston.
Since then, Lester has been the most consistent pitcher on the Red Sox staff. He has averaged 207 IP since 2008.
In each of those seasons, Lester has made over 30 starts and has not had a trip to the Disabled List. Often times ones best ability is their availability and Lester is always ready when called upon.
Stronger Red Sox Bullpen
The Red Sox had few reliable relievers last season outside of young flamethrower Daniel Bard, who should continue to get even better in his second full season.
Even the usually consistent Jonathan Papelbon posted career highs with a 3.90 ERA and eight blown saves. Besides these two, no other Red Sox reliever finished with an ERA under 4.00.
This season the Red Sox have turned a weakness into a strength by bringing in a plethora of bullpen arms. Most notably the have added former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and former Rays reliever Dan Wheeler.
They have also re-signed lefty specialist Hideki Okajima and appear to have one of the stronger bullpens in baseball.
If nothing else this means Lester will lose far less wins at the expense of an erratic bullpen.
Less SP Competition
As much as this award is contingent on Lester pitching well, it also is affected by how other American League starters fare.
Last season, we saw Roy Halladay move from the Blue Jays to the Phillies. This season Cliff Lee has followed suit to the National League.
Zach Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award Winner, also moved to the National League in a trade between the Royals and Brewers.
Even the likes of Shaun Marcum and Matt Garza have been traded and no longer have to worry about the DH.
Obviously reigning Cy Young Award Winner Felix Hernandez and New York ace C.C. Sabathia still remain. However, fewer quality pitchers in the AL can only help Lester's chances.
Weaker A.L. East
Last season the American League East was arguably the best division in all of baseball. The Rays and Yankees each finished with over 95 wins.
Meanwhile ravaged by injuries the Sox still managed to tally 89 wins and the Blue Jays were not far behind with 85.
However, this offseason the Yankees did little to improve their team. They lost out on Cliff Lee's services and, as of now, all signs point to an Andy Pettitte retirement.
The Rays could not afford the services of many of their core players that hit free agency and thus appear due for serious regression. Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, and Matt Garza have all moved on from Tampa Bay.
Even the Blue Jays do not appear to be as strong after trading Shaun Marcum to the Brewers in exchange for prospects who need a few years of seasoning. On top of that Jose Bautista will likely come back to earth following a magical 2010 season.
The Sox will still see strong contention from the Yankees but from top to bottom the A.L. East is simply not the division it used to be.
Lester's four seam fastball sits around 92-94 mph and has come in at 96 mph in necessary situations. Lester also uses a cut fastball and a two-seam fastball.
His best off-speed pitch is his buckling curveball that he throws at 75-78 mph. He also has begun to work in a changeup.
His array of pitches is certainly one of the tops in the league. Lester showcased his dazzling ability in 2008 with a no hitter against the Kansas City Royals.
As Lester continues to fine tune his pitches he can only improve across the board.
This is not so much a prediction based on statistic as it is something that must happen if Lester wishes to contend for the crown of top A.L. pitcher.
Last season, Lester struggled with command at times and saw an inexplicable jump to 3.6 BB/9. Due to his dominant stuff, he was still able to post a career best WHIP.
He also must avoid the rare bump in the road. Last season, he had a start where he surrendered 9 ER over just 2 IP versus the Blue Jays.
Then in his final start of 2010 season, Lester saw his ERA jump from 2.96 to 3.25 after getting tuned up for 8 ER.
Lester has the tendency to let things get away from him on some starts. He must be able to work through adversity even when he doesn't have his best stuff.
At this point there is very little that Jon Lester has not been through.
His bout with cancer is well chronicled and he was still able to fight back to the leagues. This shows a pitcher with a lot of fire and heart.
Less than two years after he was diagnosed with lymphoma, Lester started the final game in the Red Sox 2007 World Series Championship.
He also has a knack for coming up big in big games. Lester has surrendered just 12 ER in over 42 IP in the post-season.
His postseason experience and will to succeed are both definitely things that will help him focus during the long, hot days of summer.