Lee Continues To Cement His Awesomeness – Phillies Nation
2012 Game Recaps

Lee Continues To Cement His Awesomeness

I’ll never forget Cliff Lee‘s first start with the Phillies.

He was just acquired from the Indians amidst a flurry of rumors that had the Phillies close to getting Roy Halladay. While his arrival carried excitement, many fans couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed for missing out on Doc. I was one of those fans, having only seen Lee from afar, and having considered him more of a good pitcher with a great season rather than a great pitcher.

His July 31, 2009 start against the Giants quieted all nerves. Lee ran out to the mound in his own patented fashion, did that bizarre fake pitch to the outfield that we learned was part of his routine, and prepared to face leadoff man Randy Winn.

First pitch was right over for a called strike. Winn then swung and missed at Lee’s second offering. In what felt like rapid fire succession, Lee then caught Winn looking with a fastball perfectly placed on the inside corner. It wasn’t a debatable pitch or one an ump usually calls a ball on an 0-2 count. It was just a flat out perfect pitch. My friend and I turned to each other with wide eyes. We had never seen anything like this before.

Lee rules so hard.

Sure, Cole Hamels was the World Series MVP the year before, but his ace-ness seemed built more on finesse. Lee was aggressive, worked quickly, and after three pitches had me convinced he was going to be the best pitcher I ever watched on a routine basis. Keep in mind I wasn’t alive when Steve Carlton pitched and I was too young to appreciate Curt Schilling during his heyday here.

Lee tossed a complete game that night and even settled for a double after coming close to a home run. He was dominant then, he remains dominant today, and over the last five seasons he has proven himself to be one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Watching him over these first two starts of 2013 has reminded me of what it was like watching him in his first outing with the Phils.

Yet, even with a Cy Young award and a lucrative contract under his belt, I can’t help but feel that Lee is underrated, even in this city. To help shake that feeling, let’s take a look at his brilliant time with the Phillies to put things in perspective.

In Lee’s 64 starts since re-joining the Phillies in 2011, he has thrown 460.1 innings, an average of 7.2 per start. In those frames he has allowed just 414 hits, walked an astronomically low 70 batters, and recorded 459 strikeouts. Yes, that’s basically one strikeout per inning with a K/BB ratio over 6.5. He barely walks anyone, and not in a Kevin Slowey way, where the lack of walks are accompanied by easy-to-hit offerings and an inability to miss bats. Lee also has a 145 ERA+ from 2011-13.

If we go back a couple more years to when he first joined the Phillies, his place among the best in the game is further cemented. From 2009-13, Lee has tallied 25.3 WAR, which ranks second among pitchers to Justin Verlander‘s 28.6. He has the lowest walk percentage at just 3.6%, and by far the highest K/BB ratio at 6.3. Roy Halladay’s 5.6 K/BB ratio ranks second at almost a full strikeout lower.

Lee has a 70 FIP- since 2009, which means his peripheral statistics point to run prevention rates 30 percent better than the league average. Again, only Verlander has him beat in this area, with a 69 FIP- that barely qualifies as “better”.

Last night, Lee threw 8.2 innings without walking a batter. It marked the 19th straight start, dating back to last season, in which Lee threw more than 6 innings with 0 or 1 walks allowed. Nobody has done that in recorded history dating back to 1900. In fact, from a relative standpoint in that this doesn’t happen all that often, nobody is even close. Greg Maddux and Christy Mathewson are the only others to come close to this feat and they managed to accomplish it in “just” 14 consecutive starts.

I’ve long held the belief that when Cliff Lee is on, there is not a better pitcher in baseball. Now, he’s not on all the time, and can become eminently hittable when his pinpoint precision slightly falters, but I stand by that belief. There have been too many instances in his Phillies career where he is literally untouchable for an extended period of time.

From July 31, 2009 to Aug. 24, 2009, his first five starts ever with the Phillies, he did this: 40 IP, 24 H, 6 BB, 39 K, 0.68 ERA, opponent’s batting line of .176/.209/.234.

In June 2011, he threw 42 innings over five starts with just 21 hits allowed, a 29/8 K/BB ratio, a 0.21 ERA and a .151/.197/.173 opponent’s batting line. That summer my research showed it was the best month of June for any pitcher in history. He wasn’t done in 2011, either, as his August and September were equally impressive. To close out the season he threw 77 innings over 10 starts. In those innings he allowed just 55 hits, had 79 strikeouts against just 10 walks, and a 0.93 ERA thanks to a .199/.235/.287 opponent’s batting line.

And don’t forget his performance from August 21, 2012 until the end of last season: 9 GS, 63 IP, 60 H, 4 BB, 65 K and a 1.57 ERA. Were it not for putrid run support and the occasional late-inning struggle — which isn’t all his fault given that the team had to use him or else use a risky, unproven reliever — Lee could have been last year’s Cy Young frontrunner.

He was that good.

Roy Halladay is a future Hall of Famer and Cole Hamels has a shiny new contract but Lee has consistently been the best pitcher in the Phillies rotation since re-signing with the team.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Cliff Lee is a Phillie

    April 10, 2013 at 10:13 am

    In the hoods and neighborhoods of Phillytown, we love the dude Cliff Lee. He’s a total baseball player and a good guy. I am happy he wears the Phillies red pinstripes.

    Here’s a link to a cool tribute video to him on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcwiZmYEMQc

  2. Jim

    April 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

    The day he was reacquired by the Phils, I stopped my truck/trailer and added lettering stating “Welcome Back Lee” to the rear of my trailer. I refer to him as Lights Out Lee.

  3. Whatever

    April 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Cliff Lee is purely the most fun pitcher to watch pitch and bat and field and run the bases I have ever seen

  4. Ken Bland

    April 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Underrated? I dunno. People seem to be attracted to polar opposites on his year last year. I guess since those critical of it (6 W’s), I wouldn’t say much because you either have an understanding of the game, or don’t, so why waste the effort. But to those gleaming about Cliff’s year, I would just say it wasn’t as flawless as some would have you believe. That drops it from either outstanding to excellent, or from excellent to very good, depending on what version of Webster’s you subscribe to.

    But the main reason I’m responding to this post is in part based on frustration (believe me, it’s minimal in the overall scheme of thinga), it do continue to amaze me how, and it keeps on growing how much overreaction there is to each pitch of Phillies baseball (not to mention the rest of life, but that’s besides the point). Take this thread as an example. A positive piece on Cliff, and the first 3 comments all positive. And let’s not underdo what he did last night….pitched a fine game, but it’s so much easier to pitch with a massive lead although you’d wonder from last year’s support if Cliff knows that. Had Cliff postted results like he (not alone) has done in the past on occasion, with the one big inning souring his ledger card, or been on the mound when a lead was lost, many of the yahoos that posted end of the world stuff yesterday would have posted the first 3 replies instead of the positive folks that did.

    I guess I could say whatever to exit stage right in classy fashion. But since as fans, we only answer to ourselves with our attitudes, I’m proud to have learned the meaning of a long season. Even if I rarely or not fell into the trap of overreaction way back when as I gained experience as a spectator, it’s a good feeling to have the patience seemingly required to follow this stuff. And if it don’t work out, take the plusses, and keep going.

    Helluva job by Cliff to end on the plus side.

  5. jt

    April 10, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I agree with the article. With all the talk about Doc and Hamels, Lee gets left out sometimes. I made a bet with a friend of mine before the season– I said Lee would win more games than Hamels. I’m up 2 so far.

  6. Chuck A.

    April 10, 2013 at 11:47 am

    So is Lee in that same “golden boy” group that gets a pass for any and every mistake he makes? Don’t get me wrong, I love them both and glad that they’re both Phillies…and I’m not one to regularly boo at games (I HAVE done it on occasion). But it just seems that the fanbase has almost deified them, while Cole got booed mercilessly at times…… and do I even have to mention the abuse that Rollins and Howard have gotten (and still get at times)??

    • Chuck A.

      April 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

      ^ same “golden boy” group as Utley. Forgot to insert his name (typing too fast!)

    • George

      April 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

      I don’t think the fanbase has deified Lee in the least. I can easily recall the abuse heaped on him for giving up a lead in the playoffs against the Cards, (although had it not been for Howard’s strikeout, it could have been worse) and last year many people griped that he didn’t win any games for the first couple of months. Even though he ended the year on a positive streak, I think there are still a lot of people who think he’s overpaid and want him traded.

    • schmenkman

      April 10, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Since the article isn’t about Utley, I hesitate to get off on a tangent, but I actually think he’s faced more of a backlash than he should because many think he gets too much of a free pass.

      I’ve posted this before, but these are players with the most WAR per plate appearance since World War II:

      1) Bonds, 2) Mays, 3) Pujols, 4) Mantle, 5) Utley, 6) JRobinson, 7) Schmidt, 8) ARodriguez, 9) Aaron, 10) EMathews

      Pujols, Utley, and ARod will dip some as they age, but if you only look at each player through age 33 (same as Utley), so that their average isn’t unfairly hurt by their decline years, Schmidt moves up to 4th, Pujols is 6th, and Utley is still 10th. Not bad company.

  7. therookie300

    April 10, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I agree Cliff Lee is awesome, but he didn’t win the game he was paid to win. That would be game 2 of the NLDS in 2011. Handed a 4-0 lead and couldn’t get it done. 2011 could have been much different with the hottest team out of the way.

    • Lefty

      April 10, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      I don’t believe they pay him to win certain games R300, I believe they pay him with the expectation that he will win way more often than not. He’s not a robot, he’s a pitcher.

      There are other Hall of Fame pitchers that lost leads in MLB playoffs.
      Right off the top of my head-
      Nolan Ryan v Phillies 1980 NLCS

      I haven’t got the inclination to look up the rest, maybe someone like Schmenkman has this type of thing at his disposal, but trust me, it happens more frequently than you think.

  8. Chuck A.

    April 10, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    The amount of abuse heaped on Howard and Rollins (and Cole somewhat in the past) compared to Lee and Utley is criminal. And therookie300 is right….he coughed it up in that game in the NLDS. Not saying he was the only reason the team didn’t advance. But THAT situation is pretty glaring.

  9. Cliff Lee is a Phillie

    April 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    The best chance to win a World Series is one you actually get into and in 2009 (when Lee didn’t have a big contract) he pitched the Phillies into the World Series and won the only two games we won in that series against the Yankees. It was Hamels who coughed up a big lead in that World Series as well as Lidge blowing a save. I’d say Lee has done pretty well for us in his time in a Phillies uniform…..just as I’d say Hamels and Lidge have contributed tremendously to the Phillies.

  10. "Big Ed" Delahanty

    April 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Eric,
    Great article. Cliff is one helluva a pitcher and I am thankful we have him. Go Lee! Go Phils!

  11. Dan

    April 11, 2013 at 1:40 am

    After overhearing a conversation between two co-workers regarding the underwhelming (their adjectives were much harsher) season Cliff Lee had last year, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I went to the Phillies website, copy/pasted all the stats for the Regular season for Hamels, Halladay, and Lee into an Excel spreadsheet, and hid the win/loss columns. Then, I asked my two co-workers to identify the pitchers, of the 3 choices given. They got them wrong. Both of them chose Halladay for Hamels’ stats, Hamels for Lee’s stats, and Lee for Halladay’s stats.

    Statistically speaking, Lee and Hamels had nearly identical stats in almost every category except one: walks. Lee completely dominated that category. In fact, even though he pitched about 60 more innings than Halladay, he still gave up fewer walks.

    The win/loss record, statistically speaking, made absolutely no sense. And that really bothers me. It was certainly the difference between another year of post-season play, or packing up early and breaking out the 3-wood.

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