The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #26. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff.
From this point forward, each weekday, we will reveal two Phillies from the PN Top 100 in separate posts. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.
Please check back this afternoon for #25.
#26 – Cliff Lee
Years: 2009, 2011-present
44-29, 2.86 ERA, 1.058 WHIP in 746 IP
Previous Rank: New to Rankings
fWAR Phillies Rank: 16th among pitchers, 48th among Phillies
Signature Season: 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and a 1.027 WHIP in 2011, finishing third in NL Cy Young Voting
Signature Moment: Catch in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series
Two-time All-Star (2011, 2013)
On July 29, 2009, the Phillies found themselves up six games in the NL East but facing a number of injuries. General Manager Ruben Amaro, in an effort to bolster the starting rotation that now featured various combinations of Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Antonio Bastardo, J.A. Happ, Rodrigo Lopez, and Chan Ho Park, had just signed former Cy Young award winner Pedro Martinez who wouldn’t be ready until mid-August. Anticipating the need for a top-flight pitcher in order to be successful in the playoffs, the Phillies’ GM had been linked in rumors to Roy Halladay. With Phillies fans clamoring for an ace, and reporters asking Halladay his thoughts of Philadelphia during the All-Star festivities, Amaro delivered Philadelphia an ace.
It just wasn’t the one Phillies fans had expected.
Yet, Cliff Lee, the 2008 reigning AL Cy Young winner, seemed to be the ace the Phillies needed. The Phillies acquired Lee for Carlos Corrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson, and went 35-18 down the stretch, with Lee going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA. Lee would be a postseason hero for the 2009 NL Pennant-winning squad, posting a 4-0 record with two complete games, striking out 33 batters in 40.1 IP with a 1.56 ERA in what was likely the finest single postseason run of any Phillies pitcher ever. Despite Lee winning Games 1 and 5 for the Phillies, the Fightins would ultimately fall short in 2009 in six games to the Yankees.
What happened in the offseason still has some confused to this day: on December 15, 2009, the Phillies would acquire Roy Halladay, forming unquestionably the top rotation in baseball only to trade Lee to Seattle in what was referred to at the time as a move that needed to be made for salary reasons. After an All-Star season with the Mariners and a World Series appearance after being traded in the same season with the Rangers, Lee would return to Philadelphia as a free agent for the 2011 season. Lee would finish third in the Cy Young voting in 2011, posting a career-low 2.40 ERA en route to his first All-Star appearance with the Phillies. Lee would meet a rocky end to the 2011 season, blowing an early 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the 2011 NLDS to the St. Louis Cardinals at home.
Despite going just 6-9, Lee led the National League in BB% and K/BB ratio with a stellar 1.114 WHIP in 2012. Lee would once again lead the NL in BB% and K/BB ratio, while lowering his ERA and WHIP to reach his second All-Star game as a Phillie in 2013 and a sixth-place Cy Young finish. Among all Phillies starters, Lee ranks first in K/9 IP, second in BB/9 IP, first in K/BB, 18th in ERA, and 13th in FIP. From 2011 through 2013, Lee ranks 27th in starts, sixth in innings pitched, ninth in K/9 IP, first in BB/9 IP, and first in K/BB.
Among the players in the upper-echelon of the Phillies Nation 100, Lee has among the shortest tenures but, like Lenny Dykstra, was a Phillie that nearly willed the Fightins to a World Series title on his own. Should the Phillies unexpectedly return to the postseason in 2014 or compete at any point during the remainder of his tenure, Lee could move even further up this list.