Jon Lester Dominating: Is Red Sox Ace A Legitimate Cy Young Candidate?

Jon LesterIf the 2014 Major League Baseball season ended today, Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester wouldn’t be the American League Cy Young. As you probably already know, the season doesn’t end today.

Lester has been dominant of late, adding even more intrigue to the left-hander’s looming free agency. A new wrinkle is emerging, too, as Lester suddenly looks like a Cy Young candidate, albeit a long shot.

Let it be known that this year’s AL Cy Young award is Felix Hernandez’s to lose. The Seattle Mariners ace ranks first in the American League in ERA (2.02), opponent OPS (.514), ERA+ (187) and FIP (2.05). He is second in wins (11), strikeouts (163) and WHIP (0.90). You could sit at your computer all day and sift through various statistics, scenarios and potential outcomes, and nothing will change the fact that Hernandez is the best pitcher in the AL.

Hernandez’s major league-best 5.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs’ scale, could be the best indicator of his excellence, outside of simply watching him pitch. The WAR argument is an interesting one, too, because Lester ranks second in the majors with a 4.5 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Corey Kluber ranks third in the majors with a 3.8 mark, just ahead of Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Phil Hughes (all with 3.7).

No one is saying Lester is better than Kershaw — undoubtedly the best pitcher in baseball — but Boston’s No. 1 starter certainly is among the game’s elite this season, no matter how you slice it. And Lester is only getting better as the season progresses.

Lester won his fourth consecutive decision Sunday with eight shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals. He has allowed just one run over his last 31 innings pitched (0.29 ERA), and he is 4-0 with a 0.85 ERA (five earned runs in 52 2/3 innings) over his last seven starts. There’s no pitcher in baseball — except maybe Kershaw — as hot as Lester.

“I don’t know if it’s a zone,” catcher David Ross said Sunday after Lester’s most recent gem. “He’s just really, really good. He’s one of the top pitchers in the game, and he goes out and performs like it every time out. We’ve come to expect good outings from him and that’s a lot of pressure, but I think he’s handled it well.”

Lester ranks second in the American League in ERA+ (159) and FIP (2.59), fourth in ERA (2.50), sixth in strikeouts (142), eighth in WHIP (1.12) and ninth in opponent OPS (.634). He’s not the Cy Young front-runner, by any means, but he’s definitely among a handful of pitchers in the discussion as most clubs near the 100-game mark. Chris Sale, Scott Kazmir and Garrett Richards are among the others in the conversation headlined by Hernandez.

In all likelihood, King Felix will remain firmly seated in his throne when 2014 wraps up. The top dogs likely have 13 or so starts to boost their respective candidacies, though, and no one has the full head of steam that Lester has right now.

Will Lester win a Cy Young before hitting the open market? Probably not. Could he make things interesting? You bet.

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