Monday, September 6, 2010

(Guest Post) Will Cliff Lee’s poor stint with Texas affect his signability this Winter?

This was written by SIH reader, Bryan L.
As Summer turns to Autumn, kids begin to go back to school, football prepares to start up... This only means one thing to baseball fans: The season is coming to a close. As the stretch run starts to heat up, a battle for the divisions and wild card will take place over the next thirty or so days, and after that, the playoffs will begin. We will all watch with great interest, and pray our team marches all the way to the Fall Classic and takes home their twenty-eighth title. We can see it now: a parade down the Canyon of Heroes for the 2nd consecutive year. The “Core 4” will have earned their 6th ring, the 2010 World Series Co-MVP’s Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia will be throwing confetti into the crowd, and the fans lining the parade will be cheering and yelling at the top of their lungs…

Yet, at this time, another season is about to begin. The “Hot Stove” season. The biggest commodities this year include Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jayson Werth… and perhaps the most sought after… Clifton Phifer Lee.

Cliff Lee has been a dominating pitcher over the last three years. In 2008, he won the AL Cy Young with a 22-3 record including an ERA of 2.54. Furthermore, Lee notched a 2.83 FIP, a 7.2 WAR, and averaged 1.37 BB/9. Quite a rebound season for a guy that spent time in the Minors in 2007.

In 2009, Lee wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in ‘08, but was nevertheless a very good pitcher. Most of us remember Lee shutting down the Yankee offense on April 16th, the inaugural game at Yankee Stadium III. As we know very well, this wasn’t the last time the Yankees would face Lee in such a crucial game. During the final months of his Indians career, Lee posted a 7-9 record with a 3.14 ERA. On July 29th, Lee was traded to the Phillies for several minor league prospects. He was thrust into a pennant race and responded with solid numbers. Over the next two months, Lee would go 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA. Lee proved critical down the stretch, as the Phillies finished 93-69, six games in front of the 2nd place Marlins.

However, it wasn’t until the 2009 playoffs when Cliff Lee exhibited his true colors. Over the course of five games, Lee went 4-0 with an ERA of 1.56 through 40.1 IP. This includes the 6-1 win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series, which frustrated me to the point where I came on to the SIH Live Chat to rant about how we just got beat. Lee would later win Game 5 of the World Series back in Philly, but it wouldn’t prove to be enough, as the Yankees took home #27 in six.

After such a performance during the World Series, and a perfect postseason record, one would think the Phillies would have clung to Lee like plastic wrap. Yet, this was not the case, as on December 15th, Lee was traded in a three-way deal which sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners and brought Roy Halladay to the “City of Brotherly Love”.

In early 2010, Lee was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball, and it was clear his postseason success wasn’t a fluke. During his stint with Seattle, Lee went 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA. For those sabermetricians out there like myself, Lee had a 2.19 FIP, 4.0 WAR, and a 0.52 BB/9… the lowest BB/9 of Lee’s career.

Yet, when the Mariners struck a deal with Texas to make Lee a Ranger, no one could have guessed his Texas statistics.

As of September 4th, Lee has gone 2-5, and his Rangers ERA is over two earned runs higher than his Mariners ERA. His Mariners FIP? 2.19. Rangers? 3.19. Interesting enough, his BB/9 has barely changed, as his Rangers BB/9 is 0.67. His K/9 has actually increased with Texas. So this tells us one thing:

The problem is not Cliff Lee.

What is the issue then? Its simple. When you combine the extreme Texas heat (90+ temperatures daily) and the hitters ballpark (3rd highest in MLB, only succeeded by Yankee Stadium and Coors Field) it becomes hell for pitchers. Furthermore, when you take in the fact that Safeco Field was rated the best pitcher’s park in MLB, it makes the transition that much tougher. You may be asking, how will Cliff Lee succeed at Yankee Stadium if its just like Arlington? I can answer that.

Pitchers can transition from a different home ballpark, they just need time.

Cliff Lee had no time to transition to pitching at Arlington on a daily basis, which is why his numbers have been poor. If Lee were to return to the Rangers in 2011, I guarantee you his numbers would be better. The big question is: Will Cliff Lee’s 2010 Rangers stats effect his signability this winter? Drum-roll please…

Absolutely not.

Only a fool would choose not to pursue Cliff Lee based on two months with a club, especially one pitching in one of the best hitters ballparks and temperatures so high you could fry an egg on a sidewalk. Cliff Lee will be getting big money this winter, no doubt about it. There is no way a General Manager would consider two months of poor pitching over 3 years of success.

Some of us may be hoping that Brian Cashman still chooses to pursue Cliff Lee this winter. You should not worry, as I assure you Cliff Lee will be sporting the pinstripes next April.

-Bryan L.

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