Was Cliff Lee All That Bad? | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Was Cliff Lee All That Bad?

Naturally when I went to school this morning, the members of the Dallas faithful I share the lecture hall and lab with were a little quiet and obviously disappointed.  They know I spent a little time between the lines and in the dugout and that I write for this site, and so they come to me with their baseball-related queries.  I must have answered, “What the hell happened to Cliff last night, dude,” around 15 times.  My responses always started with something along the lines of, “Dude, he wasn’t all that bad.”  How could a start in which Cliff Lee, probably the premier pitcher in the game today, gives up six earned and retires only 14 batters not be regarded as disastrous?

After my initial response, I followed it up with my methods for evaluating a start.  They begin and virtually hinder on the ratio.  By that I mean the K/BB.  If this falls below 2, I regard the start as average at best unless the arm reaches double-digit K’s or only walks a guy through six.  Cliff struck out 7 guys through 14 outs and only walked one dude.  Did he pass the first test?  He destroyed it.

My immediate next criterion when evaluating a start is the fastball pace.  Cliff Lee can work up to 94 mph and still keep a delivery and a release point.  I haven’t seen him much above that while maintaining those abilities.  Last night he worked around 93 mph for the straight one.  His cutter was around 89, and that is a good pace for that pitch and really demonstrates that he is staying on top of it.  Cliff has to stay on top of his pitches because his size will not allow him to pitch at the pace he does if he sacrifices slot height.  Did he pass the second test?  Definitely.

The third test is the evaluation of secondary stuff.  Cliff utilizes about 4 pitches, all of which he commands as well as anyone in the game.  Of offerings other than the heater, his cutter grades out as the best one, and his change and curve grade at 60 at least most nights.  He stands the breaking ball up occasionally, and that would force most guys to release early, but Cliff hardly ever releases anything early and didn’t really last night except for a plunk to Anres Torres.  His change had the typical lefty fade, his bender had 12 to 6 action and massive speed change, and the cutter was nasty as always.  Did he pass the third test?  Duh.

The fourth test is location.  He only walked one guy.  That’s pretty damn good.  ESPN would have us believe that he caught too much of the plate with a handful of pitches.  I don’t agree, and in fact I would argue against the importance of hitting spots in general if I felt like writing this all game.  Changing speeds and maintaining release points throughout a sequence can make any spot deadly.  Pitchers simply need to be in the zone with everything and throw under bats.  Cliff Lee accomplished that with every hitter except Freddy San, and he is somehow a former batting champ and hardly an easy out.

The next test is the sequence.  As much as pitchers would like to believe that nailing their spot with their pitch is good enough for the out every time, that simply is absurd.  Occasionally that pitch will go exactly where the hitter expects it, and he will demolish it accordingly.  I couldn’t stand the sequences that Lee was throwing to the righties last night.  He threw entirely too many cutters and not nearly enough heaters and changeups.  The singular advantage that lefties have on the bump is that their shit goes away from the right-handed hitters naturally.  Cliff’s fastball and change both have nice arm-side action that play very well in a pitcher’s yard.  That advantage is naturally forfeited when sequences are built off cutters and benders that do the exact opposite.  What’s more is that Lee’s cutter cannot be an above-the-belt pitch to righties because it lacks the requisite pace.  He failed the sequence test miserably in my opinion.

Still, it’s not like he was torched.  He kept everything in the yard and got a lot of balls on or near the ground.  With that number of K’s and that many balls topped, Cliff Lee should have made it at least 5 more outs than he did, but sometimes hit percentage is a bitch, and that is essentially why the playoffs are a crapshoot.  The Cardinals won it all in 2006 with basically a .500 regular season record.  Baseball is a great game for a lot of reasons.  Among those are the facts that sometimes Freddy Sanchez wins batting titles, sometimes .500 teams win The Series, and sometimes the best pitcher on the planet exits after 14 outs with a 7:1 K/BB.


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