I remember days gone by when Jon Lester would have received serious consideration for the 2018 Cy Young award. I mean, it would go to Max Scherzer who also won 18 games and struck out a bunch more guys and threw a bunch more innings and all of that “ace” stuff. But Jon would have been in the conversation with his 18 wins and his grit and all of that. Certainly not that de Grom kid. Sure he had a gaudy ERA, but he pitched on a bad team and struggled to win 10 games. Ah, we’ve come a long way with our analysis and understanding of pitching. I hope know that all of the voters recognize that Jon had a very fine season, Max had a very good season and de Grom was out of this world and should win the Cy Young.
But I don’t want to be dismissive of Jon. We’ve long talked about the Hall of Very Good for guys who were really good but not quite Cooperstown-worthy. In this instance, I’m not talking about Jon’s actual qualifications for the Hall. He’s got a lot of pitching left to do and that conversation is premature. Probably even more because voters and public perception are still trying to figure out to do with the way game has evolved for starting pitchers. Jon is a great example of that. He’ll win 200 games (he’s already at 177), but he won’t sniff 300. And Jon was a very good pitcher who often pitched on elite teams. A guy like that would often be sitting on at least 225 of maybe 250 wins already. But Jon may only get so something like 225 (I’m terrible at projecting these things).
Anyway, to not be dismissive of Jon, I know there are some who always want their ace to have a de Grom season. To be that guy who goes out there and it is just lights out for the other team. We look at Jon, we see a 3.32 ERA... good but not great. He threw 181⅔ innings this year in 32 starts. So less than six innings per start. Ho hum. His ERA+ of 129 is quite good. His FIP of 4.39, not so much. WHIP of 1.310, not all that great. His H/9, BB/9, HR/9 and K/9 were all worse than his career averages. But what of all of that? The Cubs are 24-8 when Jon Lester pitches. As has been talked about from time to time around here, the Cubs were no juggernaut. So it’s not like everyone had a gaudy number like that.
I know I’ve made these next points before, but I don’t think it hurts to point them out. Jon had that horrific stretch of hitless at bats to start his MLB career. He’s turned into a reasonable hitting pitcher (.119/119/.169) this year. He’s a good bunter. He’s worked enough on his yips throwing to bases that he’s actually recording some outs at first when he isn’t standing within a few feet of the bag. He’s picked off a runner. And runners only stole 14 bases off him all season (down from 44 in 2015). Jon plays the game of baseball very hard. Grit and determination aren’t quantifiable things, but you know here and there Jon has stolen a win by gutting things out on a night when everything wasn’t clicking.
Everyone would always love to have second half of 2015 Jake Arrieta. Those guys don’t come around very often but believe me, every single team, every single year is looking for that guy. They are trying to develop him on the back fields in one of their complexes, they are scouting every corner of the globe for him. But when you can’t get one of those, if you can find Jon Lester and put him in front of your rotation, you aren’t doing half bad. So yeah, I’m saying his 2018 season isn’t Cy-worthy. But it is the Cy Young equivalent of the Hall of Very Good. I’m glad he’s on our side. He’s been worth 12.8 bWAR since coming to the Cubs and he’s made 97.5M. Even at $9M per 1 WAR, that’s excess value. I remember when people were calling that a lemon deal.
With that, we turn our attention to yesterday’s game as we look at what WPA had to say about Heroes and Goats. As always the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added — here’s a good explanation of how WPA works) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. Also note, for the purposes of Heroes and Goats, we ignore the results of pitchers while they are batting and hitters while they are pitching. With that, we get to the results.
Game 159, September 27 - Cubs shutout Pirates 3-0 for series split (93-66)
THE THREE HEROES:
- Superhero - Jon Lester (.310). Jon threw six shutout innings allowing only three hits and four walks. Admit it, you were worried he was going to get shelled after the first two and three of the first four Pirates reached base. Jon powered through that and then eventually left the game having retired the last seven batters he faced. (Jon’s hitting is an oddity. He was one for two with a run scored and ended up with a -.078. His single ends up being a -.032 because of the Contreras out at the plate.)
- Hero - David Bote (.177). There always seems to be one guy who Cubs fans are just applying their collective will for him to be good. I think David is that guy right now. His story is a good one and everyone loves an underdog. Underdog had a hit and a walk in three plate appearances yesterday. The hit was a two run triple.
- Sidekick - Steve Cishek (.049). Steve retired all three batters he faced in the seventh. Phew. The Cubs need Steve to right the ship after a rough September.
THE THREE GOATS:
- Billy Goat - Anthony Rizzo (-.060). Anthony was hitless in four at bats. Here ends the quest for his fourth Superhero of the Year award in the five years of this feature. Barring Pedro Strop both coming back from an injury and getting into a leverage spot and not succeeding (read: not going to happen), the door is shut.
- Goat - Willson Contreras (-.037). Willson had a double in the Cubs extremely weird fourth inning in which the first five batters reached base and they managed only one run.
- Kid - Javier Baez (-.008). Javy actually had a double and a walk on the day. The double was after it was already 3-0, so it just didn’t give him enough boost.
WPA Play of the Game: David Bote batted with runners on second and third and two outs against Trevor Williams in the second inning. In four of his previous five starts, Trevor allowed no runs. On one pitch to Bote he allowed a two run triple. (.176). Bote only spent about half the season on the team and he has been responsible for the Play of the Game eight times (fifth on the team).
*Pirates Play of the Game: In the eighth inning after a lead off walk, David Bote made an error putting runners on first and second with no outs. (.076). The Pirates had runners on first and second with no outs twice and a lead off double once and they scored no runs.
- Superhero - Javier Baez 22.5
- Hero - Pedro Strop 22
- Sidekick - Kyle Hendricks 17
- 4th - Jon Lester 16
With three games to play, this is a two horse race for the top spot. With Pedro Strop unlikely to meaningfully appear, if at all, the outcome is in Javy’s hands. He needs to be even or better through the final three games to win. Rarely does Javy go more than three games off the podiums, so the final chapter has most likely not been written.
Up Next: So it comes down to this. The St. Louis Cardinals are coming to town for the final three games of the season. One of life’s ironies is that a decade ago, we were generally happy for a season that the Cubs were at least in contention down to the end of the season. Now, this season is profoundly disappointing to a good number of people. The Cubs magic number dropped to three with the win last night. The Cubs need some combination of three of their own wins or Brewers losses. But the Brewers get the Tigers who are 64-95. That includes 18-33 since the start of August and 26-52 on the road. They just lost two straight at the Twins. In mid-September they did take two of three at Cleveland, so maybe they like playing spoiler. We can only hope. As a fallback, if the Cubs get the magic number to one by the end of Sunday, then the Cubs and Brewers would meet on Monday with the division title on the line.
Back to the things the Cubs can control themselves. The Cardinals come in having won six of 10, but beyond that 10 of 20 and 15 of 30. They’ve been playing mediocre ball for a while now. The Cardinals come in having just been swept by the Brewers in St. Louis. Before that, they’d actually won six of seven, including a sweep of the Giants in St. Louis and taking two of three from the Braves in Atlanta. St. Louis leads the season series against the Cubs having won nine and lost seven so far.
The Cubs will send Kyle Hendricks to the mound. Kyle is 13-11 with a 3.49 ERA. Over his last seven starts though he is 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA. Last time out he picked up a win over the White Sox with 7⅔ innings of four hit, no walk, one run baseball. Kyle has faced the Cardinals three times this year and he is 2-0 and has allowed eight runs in 17⅔ innings of work. Dating back to last September, over his last five starts against them he is 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA.
The Cardinals counter with Adam Wainwright. Adam at 36 years old has had an injury plagued season and has only thrown 35⅓ innings. He is 2-3 with a 4.08 ERA. He’s made three starts since returning from the disabled list. In start one, he allowed four runs in five innings to the Pirates. In start two, he threw six shutout innings against the Dodgers. In start three, he allowed four runs in 6⅓ innings against the Giants. He’s thrown over 100 pitches in the last two starts, so he appears to be healthy. He did face the Cubs back in April. He had a mixed bag that day. He threw five innings and allowed four hits, four walks and one unearned run. He struck out five. He got a win for that one.
Because Wainwright has battled injuries so much the last few years, only Anthony Rizzo has a large body of work against Wainwright despite occupying the same division for so long. Rizzo has 54 plate appearances against Adam with a .659 OPS. Daniel Murphy has 21 PA with a 1.029 OPS, so hopefully he adds to the mix. Current Cubs players have an OPS of .634 over 230 PA against him (over 10% of their plate appearances were by pitchers).
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
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