Commentary

A convincing case for Jon Lester

The best pitcher in baseball? Let us present our argument before the jury

Updated: February 25, 2011, 3:42 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I would like to call my first witness.

John Lackey, do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

I do.

Mr. Lackey, you are charged with making the following statement: "Jon Lester, in my mind, is the best pitcher in the game.''

Those words are mine.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
AP Photo/Dave MartinJohn Lackey, Tim Wakefield and John Smoltz all make a convincing argument as to why Jon Lester should be one of the game's best in 2011.

You understand that Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners won the Cy Young Award in the American League last season, and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies won the Cy Young Award in the National League, and said award goes to the pitcher judged to be the best in his league?

I do.

Then, why, sir, did you assert that Mr. Lester is -- and I quote -- "the best pitcher in the game"?

"Just the way he competes, his stuff, the division he pitches in, the numbers he puts up. Pitching in this division is a different animal than what a lot of people are dealing with, and he does pretty damn good.''

When you describe his stuff, is there one pitch that stands out?

"Honestly, his cutter is one of the better pitches in the game. Guys know he's throwing it, it's in the scouting report in big red letters -- HERE COMES THE CUTTER -- and he's still blowing up right-handed hitters with it, and left-handers are swinging through it. When a guy knows a pitch is coming and still can't hit it, that's special.

"If we had stayed healthy last season, Jon would have won even more games than the 19 he did win.''

Thank you, Mr. Lackey. You may step down. I call my next witness, Tim Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield, you have heard the testimony of Mr. Lackey. How would you respond?

"I'd have to agree with him. Just his ability to command the strike zone with all his pitches. He's gotten so much bigger and stronger. He throws hard now, and has just developed into one of the best pitchers, if not the best. A quality guy, too. Very professional. I like the way he goes about his business. He gets it.

"I'm privileged enough to be his teammate.''

Mr. Wakefield, you were Lester's teammate when he was diagnosed with cancer, watched him conquer that disease, and return to his profession. What impact has that made on your opinion?

"It's amazing. Just for him to overcome that, let alone come back and pitch the way he has the last couple of years is truly an achievement for the gods. And a true testament to his work ethic.''

Well-stated, Mr. Wakefield, and if the court would permit me to say so, damn near poetic. Before I bring in my expert witness, your honor, I would like to introduce the sworn statement of Mr. Curt Young -- for the record, Boston's new pitching coach. Impartiality prevents him from directly addressing the question before this court, but let the record show what he thinks of Mr. Lester.

"Just talking to him this winter, the last few days, it's attitude, confidence. Throw that in with his stuff, he's one of the premier pitchers in baseball.

"His cutter? It's a pitch he has total command of. No hitter likes the ball running in on his hands, and that's what his does.''

Finally, your honor, I would like to introduce my expert witness, who needs no introduction to this court but for the purposes of the record, we will make one anyway. John Smoltz pitched 21 years in the major leagues, including part of one season with the Red Sox -- not his finest hour, but irrelevant to the business of this court. Mr. Smoltz won 215 games, and saved an additional 154 as a closer. He is a certain Hall of Famer, perhaps on the first ballot. He also was teammates with two other certain Hall of Famers, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

Because of his great expertise on the topic, and because Mr. Smoltz, now employed as an analyst by the MLB Network, likes to talk, we ask the court to allow Mr. Smoltz the opportunity to render a full judgment.

Mr. Smoltz, do you believe Jon Lester is the best pitcher in baseball?

"I picked him to win the Cy Young last year before the season started. The only thing I can emphasize is people don't realize how hard pitching is and how much luck has to go into it, how many things have to go right. You can possess all the skills there are but you still have to put it together and he's putting it together. He has been putting it together.''

What evidence do you have of that, sir?

"No one wants to face him. Your only hope as a hitter is that he makes a mistake. When you get to that level, you've got them eating out of your hands. The only curse is, and one thing people don't understand about pitching, is that you don't know from start to start how you're going to feel. Sometimes I felt better on the fourth day, and the fifth day just didn't work out.

"It breaks down like this and he's proven it. If you can win the majority of the games you feel good in, and go .500 in games you don't feel good and things aren't right, you're going to have a great year. You never want to make a statement that makes it sound easy because it's not, but the team had so many things go wrong and he still was in the Cy Young mix. With any luck he might have won.''

Mr. Smoltz, you have heard the testimony regarding his cutter. Is there anything you'd care to add?

"I know that if I was a hitter, I'd be cursing under my breath because I'd be thinking it's a fastball and he just jams the heck out of me. What makes it so awesome is you can't recognize it. It's that tight. But even when he doesn't have the cutter, he has the big fastball and an awesome curveball.''

Mr. Smoltz, you wished to make a statement about Mr. Lester's character. Proceed.

"We throw around a lot of terms like 'horse,' but he's just an animal when he's out on the mound. You can't play baseball like football, but I would think if he was playing football he'd have this inner desire and grit to knock you on your rear end.

"There's a good part of that in baseball, and he's learned how to handle it. I call it the monster within, it can get out in front of you and can become a bad thing, because baseball is not about give that speech and just go out and go nuts, like football. But you have to have an inner desire to say, 'I'm not giving in, you're not going to beat me. It doesn't matter what happens. I gave up two, that's all it's going to be, I'm not giving up any more.'

"Plus he survived something that has put everything else in perspective. He's got a perseverance. A lot of people have perseverance but haven't gone through what he has.''

Thank you, Mr. Smoltz. You may step down.

Your honor, we rest our case.

What's that, your honor? You are declaring this court in recess until November? Fine. We'll bring our Cy Young Award with us.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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