There’s an awful lot to like about Cliff Lee. For starters, he demolishes the Yankees. Who doesn’t like that? Well, there are the Yankees fans, of course. But who cares about them? They have 27 World Championships to fall back on and the highest payroll in baseball in the past, present and future. What’s more, there is a strong likelihood that the falling through of their attempted July trade (which included their top prospect) to land Lee wasn’t a cancellation, but a postponement. For now, though, it’s just fun to watch them squirm.
But what I really like about Cliff Lee is that he’s one player on which we can all agree. We: the more sabermetrically-inclined writers, viewers and fans. And we: the more traditional writers, viewers and fans.
It isn’t all that often in life where everyone is in complete and utter agreement. For example, some people really like McDonalds fries, while others would fervently claim that In-N-Out Burger fries are the best. Another great example would be in film. If you want to know what is often credited with being the greatest film of all time, I’ll tell you. Time and time again, Citizen Kane gets the nod. What I can also tell you is that Citizen Kane will likely never win an Audience Award for best film of all time. Roger Ebert may love Citizen Kane, but a bus driver in Philly does not. Audiences love The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, The Lord of the Ring Trilogy and the Godfather. That’s just the way it is.
But everyone agrees Cliff Lee is the man. Isn’t that nice? Since his brilliant 2008, Ron Darling and Joe Morgan can tell you that Cliff Lee is 48-25 in the regular season (a .658 winning percentage) with a 2.98 ERA. During that time, he’s also averaging 6 complete games a season with 2 shutouts.
Since his brilliant postseason debut last October, Ron Darling and Joe Morgan would tell you that Cliff Lee is 7-0 (a winning percentage of 1.000) with a 1.26 ERA and 3 complete games, while giving up just 40 hits in 64.1 innings, striking out 67, walking just 7 and relenting a single homerun.
Since his brilliant 2008, Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski can tell you that Cliff Lee has an ERA+ of 142 and a 1.12 WHIP. He’s done this while also giving up just .60 HR per 9 innings and walking just 1.3 while striking out 7.2 (for a ratio of 5.64) and he’s also racked up a stellar 21.8 WAR over that period of time. That’s better than Tim Lincecum (20.8), Roy Halladay (21.4), Felix Hernandez (16.7) and yes, C.C. Sabathia (19). His strikeout to walk ratio in 2010 of 10.28 is the second best mark recorded in the history of baseball.
They would also tell you that in the postseason, his numbers just get goofy good. He’s given up a microscopic .10 HR per 9 innings while striking out 9.4 and walking 1.0 (a ratio of 9.57). They aren’t getting hits off of him much more than they are drawing walks, hence the .73 WHIP.
How we all seem to be arriving at the conclusion that Cliff Lee is probably the best pitcher on the planet right now isn’t all that important, at least not in this case. We can continue to argue of Trevor Cahill’s season and C.C. Sabathia’s Cy Young candidacy when the World Series is won. But right now, it’s just nice knowing we’re all on the same page. Not as writers, bloggers and broadcasters, but as fans of the game.
NOTE: I think it’s worth mentioning, that Cliff Lee was throwing his cutter about 6% of the time in 2008. In 2009 he bumped it up to around 12%. In 2010 he threw it nearly 20% of the time. I mentioned in my previous post that the cutter is a huge weapon for Cole Hamels and that Dave Cameron wrote about its rise in baseball. I don’t think this is a coincidence and its use is surely to continue to rise around the game. Roy Halladay has a great one, Cliff Lee has a great one, and that’s basically all Mariano Rivera – the greatest reliever in baseball history – throws. You do the math.
Stats come from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs