Chicago Cubs: Which current Cubs could be Hall of Famers?

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs, Jon Lester
Chicago Cubs (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images) /

Jon Lester

We’ll kick things off with one of the easiest Hall of Fame chances to forecast for any Cubs player – Jon Lester.

After a solid nine-year career largely spent in Boston, Lester signed the Cubs’ first mega-deal of the Theo Epstein era, a six-year, $155 million contract. He’s been worth every penny.

In four years on the North Side, Lester has gone 61-31 with a 3.33 ERA, 3.67 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – a stat on the same scale as ERA that only accounts for outcomes that pitchers have direct control over), and two All-Star appearances.

Of course, for Hall of Fame consideration, we need to look at his entire career. As he enters his age-35 season in 2019, Lester currently sits at a win-loss record of 177-98 with a 3.50 ERA.

Lester should easily hit 200 wins which is an important mark – only nine Hall of Famers have fewer than 200 wins. In today’s game when starting pitchers don’t pitch nearly as long as in years past, that threshold should be viewed as even more impressive than it would have been 30 or 40 years ago.

He’s got at least two years left in Chicago and then Lester will probably be able to stick around the league for at least a few more seasons. He needs just 23 more wins to hit 200, and he’s averaged over 15 per season while he’s been a Cub. Barring an injury, Lester should hit 200 wins relatively easy and could push for 250 if he can continue to pitch well into his late 30s.

What should be more concerning, though, is his ERA. He already sits at 3.50, and it’s likely that it will only increase as he ages. Only nine starting pitchers have made the Hall of Fame with an ERA higher than 3.50.

Lester’s FIP has risen each year he’s been in Chicago, and he’s posted back to back marks over 4.00. His ERA may be what matters, but the increased FIP is pretty telling of his actual skill. Lester may be able to hold steady with an ERA in the mid-threes, but if it skyrockets, his Hall of Fame chances will suffer greatly.

On the plus side for Lester, although his ERA is higher than most Hall of Famers, his ERA+ is actually better than the average enshrined starting pitcher. ERA+ is a great statistic to use when evaluating pitchers across generations because it normalizes ERA to a pitcher’s league and ballpark. 100 is average, and every point above or below 100 represents a percentage point better or worse than league average.

Lester is currently sitting at a 122 ERA+, a mark that is better than 33 of the 63 Hall of Fame pitchers including some guys you may have heard of – Nolan Ryan, Warren Spahn, Tom Glavine, and fellow Cub Fergie Jenkins.

Hot. Ricketts family not living up to their word. light

Perhaps the biggest milestone for Lester to overcome in his bid for Cooperstown is his lack of WAR. The average Hall of Fame pitcher finishes with 73.4 WAR. Lester has just 43.8. He’s put up 12.4 WAR in his time in Wrigleyville, so while he may finish his career around 50, he’ll still be well under the Hall of Fame standard.

Lester comes a tad bit closer to the average Hall of Famer in WAR7 and JAWS, currently sporting a 35 and 39.4 mark, respectively. The average inductee comes in at 50.1 and 61.8.

While the case for Lester may not be strong when looking at wins, ERA, and WAR, his reputation and results on the game’s biggest stage certainly tilt the scale in his favor.

In 154 career postseason innings, Lester has been nothing short of great. His career 2.51 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in the playoffs undoubtedly put him in the discussion of best big game pitcher among those active today.

The Cubs have been to the postseason in every single one of Lester’s seasons in Chicago. In 12 playoff games with the Cubs, he has a 2.44 ERA. That doesn’t even mention the critical role he played in the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory in which he was named co-NLCS MVP en route to the Fall Classic.

The curse-breaking victory in 2016 is just one of Lester’s three World Series wins, and he’s certainly in a good spot to compete for at least two more.

Those three championships play heavily in his favor for induction in Cooperstown, as do his five All-Star appearances, and three finishes in the top-five in Cy Young voting. Lester’s Hall of Fame Monitor score is sitting at 96. The system is scaled so 100 means there’s a good possibility for induction and 130 means the player is a virtual lock.

The case for Lester making the Hall of Fame relies heavily on his results in the postseason, as well as the accolades he’s accrued throughout his 13-year career. It’s easy to see how in today’s age of sabermetrics, a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-threes with a slightly above average strikeout-to-walk ratio could be viewed negatively on the ballot.

Because of the change in thinking that’s happened over the last 10-15 years, Lester may not gain enough support during his 10 years of eligibility on the BBWAA writer’s ballot. Luckily for players like Lester, that’s not his only chance at induction.

If he slips through the cracks on the writer’s ballot, he’ll have a good shot at nomination through an era committee. The Hall of Fame tasks committees that cover a certain era of baseball to look for candidates for the Hall that were overlooked during their initial stints on the writer’s ballot.

Those 16-person committees meet and vote every few years. With the committee largely being constructed of Hall of Fame players and executives, Lester could certainly be named to the Hall since he’ll likely be viewed more favorably by his peers.

While advanced statistics may not favor Lester’s bid for enshrinement, his track record in the playoffs and above average ERA+ could certainly lead to his induction. Assuming he stays productive into his late 30s, Lester’s chances look pretty good.