Clone Wars: Jon Lester and CC Sabathia

The next few years should be quite exciting in the Yankees and Red Sox matchup. They control two of the best pitchers in the A.L. and both still in prime ages of their careers. Jon Lester is only 25 and is fully healthy after a few years dealing with his cancer and the recovery. CC Sabathia has several more years under his belt and many more pitches, but will enter 2010 at only 29 and looks to have many more years at the top of his game.

                   W    K      ERA    BB   IP       K/9    BB/9    K/BB   GB%       FIP
Jon Lester         15   225    3.41   64   203.1    9.96   2.83    3.52   47.7%     3.15
CC Sabthia         19   197    3.37   67   230.0    7.71   2.62    2.94   42.9%     3.39

Jon Lester

MLB: OCT 08 ALDS – Game 1 – Red Sox at Angels
Oct. 8 2009: Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Los Angeles Angels during ALDS Game Two at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, CA. (Icon/SMI)

Not many can see how much better Lester was this year since the ERA is worse and the wins and losses are about the same as a season ago. If you look at the large jump in strikeout rate you can see how much better he really was. His K/9 went from 6.50 last year to 9.96 this season. That was second overall in the American League.

This year also saw a confirmation of Lester’s ground ball rate that was at 47.5 percent last year which was the highest of his career. This year he had a rate of 47.7 percent, confirming he could do this for the long term. When you combine his ability to control the strike zone and force hitters into ground balls he is headed for continued success as the new “ace” of the Red Sox.

His success has stemmed from an increase in pitch velocity this year. His fastball averaged 93.6 mph this year, which is up from his 92.1 last year and much higher than 90.2 mph in his rookie season. His cutter has also gotten faster, going 85 mph in 2007 to 89.0 this season. His pitch value on the cutter has reached 1.96 per 100 pitches. This was by far his best pitch. You can see some pitch f/x analysis by Lee Perrault here for his improvements this season.

CC Sabathia

I took a look at Sabathia earlier this season and attempted to calm some nerves about his slow start. He has a tendency to start slow and also struggled with his control when he first went to Milwaukee, as well.

Since his early season struggles he has returned to the Sabathia we are familiar with. He hasn’t been as good as he was last fall, but putting him back in the American League was sure to return his K/9 to career levels. His numbers are all within a very small amount of career levels for K/9, BB/9 and GB percentage. The Yankees are getting exactly what they paid for.

Something to keep in mind with Sabathia is his HR/FB percentage in 2009. It was only 7.4 percent and his HR/9 was only 0.51 at home while 0.86 on the road. This should be a bit of a concern, although he has maintained lower HR/FB rates in his career. His lower rates previously can be attributed to pitching in Cleveland’s Progressive Field which has ranked favorably to pitchers in regards to homers against.


We are talking about the best in the league here and getting either one should benefit your fantasy team next year. Lester has age on his side as well as many less pitches thrown in his career. Sabathia does not strike out nearly as many as Lester did this year and relies much more on controlling his walks. This makes Lester more valuable for his strikeout totals.

They were close in 2008 for win totals, but Sabathia ran away with wins this year. They both pitch in front of very good offenses and neither should be expected to run away with wins. WHIP is a solid category for Sabathia where he has been under 1.20 for four years now, but Lester has never registered a WHIP under 1.20.

Again you could take either one and have your team’s No. 1 pitcher, but in a close contest I would choose Lester for his strikeout totals. Even if he regresses slightly in his K/9 he stands ahead of Sabathia in this. Even if Sabathia can throw the extra 30 innings or so again next year he likely won’t catch Lester in strikeouts.

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Walt Cherniak
Walt Cherniak

Great analysis, but it’s missing another key element.

Lester is under the Red Sox’ control for the next five years, for a maximum total cost of $42 million.

Sabathia will cost at least $115 million over that period, and probably a lot more if exercises his right to opt out of the deal after the 2011 season.

When you add in the facts that Sabathia is four years older and has a lot more wear and tear on his arm (to say nothing of his weight), this is a pretty easy choice.

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

I was going to comment on contract status, but wanted to try and keep this centered on fantasy value, but I agree the wear on Sabathia’s arm is very much an issue.

Jack Marshall
Jack Marshall

I am constantly amazed that Sabathia’s size and weight get so little comment. The stress this puts on his joints and body generally is tremendous. The closest thing to CC we have seen recently would be David Wells, who had frequent knee problems as he aged. I’ll be shocked if Sabathia doesn’t see his career shortened or degraded by weight-related injuries.