Early Look at Jon Lester’s Silver Slugger Candidacy

After Jon Lester had a day with 3 RBI and one bomb in Saturday’s blowout win against the Pirates, he has cemented himself as a solid contributor for the Cubs on the mound and at the plate. After nine seasons in the American League, Lester had been a poor performer at the plate when it came to anything than bunting, but is now producing at MLB average with his smooth, powerful swing as shown by his OPS+ of 100 (.774 OPS).

Given that pitchers who are batting at this level are considered elite hitters for their position, does this put Lester on track for a Silver Slugger this year? Let’s take a look by comparing the numbers of recent winners from 2008-18 with Lester’s stats so far this season. The chart below includes old friends Jake Arrieta (’16) and Carlos Zambrano (’08, ’09), with the latter taking home hardware two years prior to the start of the sample.

Name Year Team PA AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ H RBI HR
German Márquez 2018 COL 65 .300 .300 .350 .650 63 18 5 1
Adam Wainwright 2017 STL 50 .262 .279 .452 .731 89 11 11 2
Jake Arrieta 2016 CHC 70 .262 .304 .415 .720 89 17 7 2
Madison Bumgarner 2015 SF 81 .247 .275 .468 .743 100 19 9 5
Madison Bumgarner 2014 SF 78 .258 .286 .470 .755 113 17 15 4
Zack Greinke 2013 LAD 72 .328 .409 .379 .788 125 19 4 0
Stephen Strasburg 2012 WSN 53 .277 .333 .426 .759 104 13 7 1
Daniel Hudson 2011 ARI 79 .277 .309 .369 .678 84 18 14 1
Yovani Gallardo 2010 MIL 72 .254 .329 .508 .837 122 16 10 4
Carlos Zambrano 2009 CHC 72 .217 .225 .464 .689 71 15 11 4
Carlos Zambrano 2008 CHC 85 .337 .337 .554 .892 123 28 14 4
Average 2008-2018 71 .274 .308 .441 .749 98 17 10 3
Jon Lester 2019 CHC 28 0.250 0.357 0.417 0.774 100 6 5 1

As you can see, Lester has a low batting average compared to recent winners, but is in good shape in terms of his OPS and OBP. Big Z offset a low average with four homers, so there’s still time. Lester also is a bit short on plate appearances since he missed time due to the hamstring injury suffered during the home opener, but he should be on track to make over 50 appearances with continued health. This was a sufficient for Wainwright in 2017 (50) and Strasburg in 2012 (53).

If it holds, Lester’s single homer would fall below the average of three for recent winners. Future Hall-of-Famer Zack Greinke, who is the best-hitting pitcher of recent times (sorry, Madison Bumgarner), hit no home runs in 2013 but still took home the trophy thanks to his slash line of.328/.409/.379.

Lester is in good shape if he wants to add a Silver Slugger to his trophy case, but could boost his chances by hitting for a higher average and driving a couple more balls out of the yard. Time for the Padres to groove him a couple so he can get his rep up a little further.

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