Cliff Lee came into 2014 with his usual high expectations. He was coming off a pretty good 2013 season where he posted a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts.
His first start of the year was less than ideal. He allowed eight earned runs in five innings against the Rangers. However, he followed up that start with seven shutout innings in Chicago against the Cubs.
Up until May 18, he had started ten games, and had an ERA of 3.18. But then we got some bad news. He got an MRI on his sore elbow, which revealed a flexor strain. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 21, retroactive to May 19. Initially, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. downplayed the severity, saying it was “pretty mild”. But by May 26, he wasn’t yet cleared to throw, and by May 27, Amaro admitted that he didn’t know when Lee would be ready to pitch again.
By June 11, he was able to play catch, and threw a bullpen on June 17. He began his rehab in the minors. Things were looking better. He was set for a mid-July return to the Phils. At this point, it was looking like the Phils might actually be able to trade Lee–one of their most valuable and coveted assets at the time–at the deadline. He was activated on July 21, and gave up six runs in 5.2 innings that day. His trade value went down. In his next start, he gave up three runs in five innings. Again, his value went down, as scouts were unimpressed with him. Finally, on July 31, Lee started against the Nationals–meaning he wasn’t traded by the July 31 deadline. He was, according to Buster Olney, a strong candidate for an August waiver trade, however. But that would be the last time we would see Lee pitch for any team. He went just 2.2 innings before leaving due to injury. He pointed to his elbow after throwing a pitch to Denard Span and motioned to be taken out.
As I said above, he wouldn’t pitch again in 2014, and, while his elbow wouldn’t require surgery, it would require a ton of rest. On October 1, an MRI revealed his elbow was healing well. And that’s the last news we’ve heard.
His stats for 2014 were poor by Cliff Lee standards, and were surely impacted by his elbow injury–which he admitted he had pitched through. He finished with a 3.65 ERA, and a higher walk rate and a lower strikeout rate than 2013. He was getting less swings-and-misses and pitching at a slower pace. His velocity was also down, as was the effectiveness of his pitches, including his cutter. Especially in those final three games in July. He simply wasn’t right, which tells me he wasn’t ready to come back.
If I was forced to give Cliff Lee a letter grade, it would be a D. He wasn’t around for much of the year, and while he was, he wasn’t what we expected. And if the Phillies were hoping to trade him, that option was eliminated as well. Of course, it’s hard to punish a guy for an injury, which is why I added the incomplete grade as well.