After a breakthrough year in 2009 that placed him in the top echelon of young starting pitchers, Lester may be primed to make a run at the Cy Young in 2010.
Lester's step forward in 2009 was significant enough that he is widely considered one of the best pitchers in the game to date. His ERA was 3.41, pitching 203 1/3 innings and posting a 15-8 record.
By the metric xFIP, which is similar to ERA but strips away all team-dependent variables, Lester's 3.13 mark placed him second in the American League behind former Toronto Blue Jay Roy Halladay. With a strong defense behind Lester coming up, his ERA only figures to drop and approximate his xFIP.
Most of Lester's struggles came early on last season, notching a 5.65 ERA over the first two months. The rest of the way, his ERA was a minuscule 2.35, also second-best in the AL over that time span behind Seattle's Felix Hernandez.
A big reason for Lester's success in 2009 has to do with whiffing 225 batters — an average of just under 10 per nine innings. Lester broke Hurst's record for most strikeouts by a Red Sox left-handed pitcher (190 in 1987) and was able to maintain his newfound pinpoint control, a problem that plagued him from 2006 and 2007 as he made the adjustment to the bigs.
Lester has proven he can crack the 200-inning barrier with regularity. With World Series experience and the high of a no-hitter already under his belt, he is a young veteran who has been thrown in many high-leverage situations and produced, a rarity for a 26-year-old.
Lester is gaining traction as a possible Cy Young award winner, and it's easy to see why. Not only does Lester possess the talent along with prior success, but the road to the award is easier with the departure of Halladay to Philadelphia.
If Lester can keep up his late-season dominance and have his defense behind him live up to its billing, don't be surprised to see carpenters in his home building a trophy case. It'll be for the Cy Young trophy.