Phillies Player Review: Cliff Lee

Posted by Corey Seidman, Wed, October 24, 2012 07:00 AM | Comments: 40
2012 Player Reviews


Cliff Lee had perhaps the strangest season of any Phillie in 2012. He had a 3.16 ERA but went 6-9. He averaged 7.0 innings per starts but had no complete games. He had 7.39 times as many strikeouts as walks but wasn’t as dominant as he could have been because he allowed 26 home runs, nine more than his season average the previous three years.

Lee’s season really hammered down the absurdity of pitcher wins as an evaluative metric. He had fewer wins than relievers James Russell and Santiago Casilla.

Why? Well, because the Phillies gave him just 3.20 runs of support per game, fourth-lowest in all of baseball. Lee allowed 79 runs this season and the Phillies scored 75 runs with him in the game … meaning that as good as he was, the Phillies made the other pitcher look better.

Gio Gonzalez, who won 21 games, was given 148 runs of support, almost twice as many as Lee.

Phillies fans turned their back on Lee midway through the season. Most knew he was doing his job and keeping the Phils in games, but the fact that the team won just three of his first 13 games became frustrating.

It’s really all about timing. Lee’s worst stretch of the season came when the Phillies needed him most: at the end of May through the end of June, when Roy Halladay was on the DL.

In eight starts from May 20-June 29, Lee had a 5.68 ERA and the opposition hit .308 off him. The Phillies went 2-6.

But it was mostly smooth sailing for Lee in the second half. He had 88 strikeouts to just four walks over his final 12 starts, for a K/BB of 22-to-1 that I don’t think any of us have ever seen. His ERA over his last eight starts was 1.44.

One can’t even say “Lee figures to rebound in 2013,” because he already did rebound. His 2012 wasn’t as good as his 2011 (2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .229 opp. BA), but he should be worth his salary next season.

If there’s something Lee needs to work on, it’s the quality of his first pitches. He led all of baseball in strike percentage and first-pitch strike percentage, but when batters did make contact on his initial offering, they hit .376.

All in all, though? An excellent 2012 season that looked like less than it was because of a glaring lack of run support and a poorly timed cold spell.

Grade: A-

Read the rest of the 2012 Phillies Player Reviews here.

Avatar of Corey Seidman

About Corey Seidman

Corey Seidman has written 210 articles on Phillies Nation.

Corey is Analysis Editor for Phillies Nation and also writes for CSNPhilly.com.

  • Posts: 0 DCmikey

    No CG games was surprising for CLee. And even Halladay for that matter.

    Agree w the A-, great write up as always

  • Posts: 0 George

    To me, an ace becomes an ace largely because of consistency. Lee’s stretch of May-June clunkers definitely hurt the team, and in my opinion, should have hurt his grade a little more.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      That’s right — Lee had a 5.68 ERA over 8 starts in May-June. I just don’t think that’s particularly unusual for an “ace”.

      This year’s CY candidates:

      Dickey …. 6.49 ERA over 5 games in July (incl. 1 inning in relief)
      Gonzalez 4.75 ERA over 8 starts in June-August
      Cueto ….. 5.04 ERA over 5 starts in May-June
      Cain …….. didn’t have any long stretches, but gave up 5+ earned runs in 5 games (same as Lee)

      • Posts: 0 George

        The five starts of Dickey and Cueto are three fewer than Lee’s eight, and Gonalez ERA for his stretch of eight was almost a run lower.

        Certainly, every pitcher has his down periods, but to me eight starts is pushing the “ace” status. It’s 25% of a a pitcher’s starts.

        I’d like to see a few other numbers. How many duds did Verlander throw in a row? Or Wainwright? How many consecutive games did Kershaw bomb out of last year, or Halladay the two years previous?

        To me, Lee was excellent for the most part. I just don’t think I’d give him an A-.

      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        Other than Wainwright those are CY winners, and you’re right that Lee’s results this year, while very good, were not at that level.

        If you look at underlying stats that he had more control over he was very competitive:

        4th lowest FIP in the NL
        3rd highest WAR
        lowest xFIP
        lowest SIERA

  • Posts: 0 Ryne Duren

    good article corey! and i agree with you. schmenk rules on the stats again! he’s THE man! and all i have to say about lee is three words “HE’S A KEEPER”

  • Posts: 0 hk

    I think that it is a sign of progress that we have seen any “$24M for 6 wins, I give him a D” comments.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      …have *NOT* seen


      • Posts: 0 hk

        Yes, of course. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Posts: 0 frank

      This is ridiculous that cliff has such a high grade. I don’t care about numbers and how much run support he had. He is an ace and didn’t get it done. If you only get 3 runs you have to give up less if you’re truly that good and making that much money. I’m not saying every time. Sometimes you’re going to lose when you pitch a good game. But any way you look at it cliff was at best average. Next we will probably see Roy with a high grade.

      • Posts: 0 Phillies fan from Germany

        An Ace is responsible for giving up few runs which is exactly what Cliff Lee got done. The poor run support in his starts is not his fault.

        With your way of thinking you would be the one giving Doc a high grade because he won 11 and lost only 8.

      • Posts: 0 frank

        To phillies from Germany – I would not grade Roy at all because I believed he pitched injured all year.

      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        That’s interesting that you don’t feel inclined to grade Dod because he was hurt, and at the same time, Cliff had his poor strecth of the year coming back from an oblique injury, and you want to call him average.

        I don’t believe you’d find more than a half dozen NL hitters with a minimum of 10 at bats against him this year that’d call his year average.

    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      What’s wrong with 6 wins for 24 million? In ’08, The Groundhog was paid 4 mil, and won 22 games. With peripherals up the yin yang, and a CY in his back pocket.

      It averaged out, I reckon.

  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    Lee deserved a better fate in 2012. Hopefully, next year he will get more support from the offense and the bullpen.

  • Posts: 4409 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Good stuff Corey, this is a subject of great interest to me. Cliff Lee has been held to a higher standard, I guess due to the contract? Personally, I try not to judge players on what they earn, just how they perform. One way or another, this man is a great, great pitcher.

    Would anyone here call Hall of Famer Steve Carlton anything less than a great pitcher? Does anyone remember what his W-L record was the year after winning 27 games?
    Here’s a hint – 13W’s and 20L’s in 1973, the first time I realized the W-L stat was essentially useless.

    Was he no longer a great great pitcher? The way the press treated him, you’d have thought so. He went a long time without speaking to them, and he ONLY went on to win THREE more Cy Young awards.

    Lee is not as good as Lefty was, but he is damn good. I’ve heard all the arguments about consistency, and yes like every other athlete he goes into funks, (or slumps if he were a batter) for short periods of time. But if he wasn’t so good the rest of the time, you wouldn’t even notice that!

    No complete games? Okay, but he did pitch 7 innings or better 20 times! He had 6 – eight inning outings, and a flippin’ ten inning game in which he allowed zero runs, and got his usual “no decision” after Bastardo blew it.

    IMO- This man deserves much more recognition and respect for the great job he has done as a Phillie. They are lucky to have him.

    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      “Was he no longer a great great pitcher? The way the press treated him, you’d have thought so. He went a long time without speaking to them, and he ONLY went on to win THREE more Cy Young awards”

      This is secondary to your pro Cliff point, but I figured I’d write it since the way I’m reading your post at least, there’s a misconception about Carlton and the press. Perhaps more than Bill Conlin wrote something that Carlton felt disrespected him, but as the story is generally accepted, Conlin’s copy included something Carlton disapproved of. Carlton, a man of high principle, adopted a policy of not talking to the press, and being consistent about it. He would occasionally make some off the record comments (I have no idea on the frequency of that, I’d guess it wasn’t real common), and he was coordial, and even friendly to many members of the media, but his goal, as it came across, was to be consistent. My above all point is that it’s a misnomer to think that Carlton had a thing against the press. And the press against him. He just conducted his dealings based on his principles. I’d venture to guess that if you questioned people that covered the club regularly back then for decent lengths of time, a good 80% of them would say my assessment is a lot more true than not. Silent Steve might be a catchy nickname, but he was NOT silent.

      • Posts: 4409 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Misconception aside, I think you’ve steered off course of the important point of that portion of my comment, Ken. It was to show that Carlton understood what some fans and Bill Conlin couldn’t, and frankly, ( as shown above in comments this posting) still don’t understand.

        That W’s and L’s are not a good way to judge or rate a pitcher. Pitchers really don’t have much control over that. Sometimes it works the other way too, Kyle Kendrick has 54 wins since 2007, (that might be the most of any Phillie, no time to fact check) and has never had a season under .500. Would anyone call him a great pitcher over that time frame?

      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        Phils wins since 2007: Hamels 82, Kendrick 54, Halladay 51, Moyer 51, Blanton 34, Lee 30, Madson 21

      • Posts: 4409 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Just checked back in on my way out the door, thank you Schmenkman, I think that illustrates it pretty well.

      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        Mention of Carlton in this thread touches an irony on various fronts a mere 2-3 days after his mention.

        – Today, October 26, is the THIRTIETH anniversary of Lefty winning what would be his 4th
        CY award. At 37 years old, no less. And similarly to his 1972 first CY, not in a good year for the club. Better than ’72 for sure, though. 295 innings, 19 complete games enroute to a 3.10, 23-11 season. The changes in the sport are all over that Carlton season, not the least of which is the comparitive early calendar point in which the award was announced.

    • Posts: 0 George

      I really don’t think Lee has been held to a higher standard than any other “ace” pitcher has. Hamels, for instance, was the ace in 2008, but in 2009 a great many fans were calling for his head. He wasn’t even making a huge amount of money then, either.

      I know I’ve been a little bit critical of Lee here, but what I’m really complaining about is the grade, and pointing out why, in my opinion, it should have been slightly lower. Not much, but slightly.

  • Posts: 0 TMcG45

    The only point I would quibble with is the idea that the fans turned their back on Lee. I think this may have been true of the talk radio “crowd” (which seems to constitute the same 10 people over and over again) egged on by the buffoon hosts and some of the more extreme, “I’d sell my mother for a win” blog commenters, but not what I observed. We attended many games throughout the season and, by coincidence, almost all were Lee games. I never heard a boo or negative comment at any point. In fact, even when he was in his worst stretch he got huge cheers every time he was introduced, ran off the field and at every at bat even though he had coughed up leads all game. The majority of fans stayed behind Lee and understood that he was, for the most part, a victim of the Hamels Syndrome and was pitching much better than the results would suggest

    Speaking of Hamels, would the people who think this grade was so out of line feel the same if it were for Cole? They finished with almost identical records.

    • Posts: 4409 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Many of Lee’s stats were better than Cole’s. But Cole is a great pitcher too.

      • Posts: 0 TMcG45

        Absolutely, Cole is a great pitcher and an excellent human being. My only point was that often the same people who say Lee was subpar are the same people who say Cole was a stud. There were times they would have almost identical starts back to back but Lee’s ended in a loss or ND and he’d be criticized and Hamels would get a win and be praised. The difference was that, finally, Cole got some run support. Good for him, he certainly earned it.

  • Posts: 0 psujoe

    the only thing that has disappointed me about Cliff is he hasn’t been the shut down pitcher needed in the Post season. He’s an integral part of the Phils for next years run. Only way I’d deal him is for a massive package like Olt, Andrus, Gentry and a pitcher.

    • Posts: 0 George

      In his time with the Phils, Cliff Lee has pitched exactly ONE bad postseason game. Remember, he was with them in 2009, too. That year he won his NLDS game, his NLCS game, and TWO world series games (the only two the Phils won). If that’s not “shutdown” enough for you, you’ve got impossible standards. Nobody’s perfect.

      • Posts: 0 psujoe

        Cliff Lee is 0-3 in his last 3 playoff starts with an era over 7. Before that he did have a dominant run, but 3 bad post-season starts in a row is a trend.

      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        You oughta check out his post season results for what I believe is 7 starts before those 3. If 3 is a trend, what would you call 7, besides a lot more sampling than 3. And by the way, if memory serves, in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, which would be one of the 3, as I recall, Cliff was rolling along until he had a terrible inning, maybe as late as the 6th or 7th inning. And it wouldn’t be surprising at all if in any of the 3 starts where results weren’t what one would “expect” out of him, he fell into his often shown pattern of pitching really well for the most part, but for whatever reason, having a bad stretch within.

        On the subject of Cliff getting paid 24 mil, or whatever, and whatever negative anyone wants to apply to his overall summary, be it the 6-9, or anything else (25 homers wasn’t too impressive, for example), take a look around The Game, and compile a list of big money players who approached the suburbs, let alone core of value this year. Tonight’s Giant pitcher, said to have had his best year in the last few made a killing, and lower standards out of his last few seasons are the only thing that make him look good in what still wasn’t a particularly good year. Maybe Carlos Zambrano is an exception if we count hitting. CC wasn’t particularly great, Johan was good for a quarter. The only difference between Timmy and Cole in ’09 is that Lincecum hasn’t said he can’t wait for the year to end. Cliff, in fact, with 6 wins for a ton of money still, in the overall landscape outpitched a lot of high rent district guys. Doc included, by the way. Kshaw and Verlander, and Cain, too pitched handsomely for big bucks, but Cliff outperformed his share.

  • Posts: 0 Psujoe

    I did say he had a dominant run the previous 7 post season games. Also I didn’t say he was awful I just said I was disappointed. He’s a very valuable piece moving forward.

    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      Well, what you actually said was he was disappointing the last 3 with an ERA over 7, but it’s not that big a deal. I can agree on the last 3 bottom lines being disappointing, but that time of the year, anything short of the mark is especially so.

      Much as I like Cliff, and as highly as I think of him as a pitcher, and want him around I don’t know about your high price sought to let him go. We overkilled this when the trade rumors were abound, but those guys clammoring to deal him to reapply the remaining lotsa contract dollars had a discussable point. I just hope we don’t look back on it thinking those guys had the right vision. Maybe age doesn’t stop him from finishing his contract strongly. But it’s risk as he gets older. Anyway, he’s here, and it sure looks like he’ll continue so, and I’m glad.

  • Posts: 0 Psujoe

    RAJ isn’t trading Lee. I also hope RAJ doesn’t go out and start spending like crazy. Phil’s need a setup man and CF. there’s quit a bit of both in FA. RAJ can be more patient with the other needs like 3b and LF. I don’t see one Nix or Schierholt back to make room for a cf. Mayberry is a nice 4th or 5th of that plays first so he might be back.

  • Posts: 0 Ryan H.

    lee’s been a disappointment since he’s been here (for the second time around). I’m still not over him blowing a 4 run lead in the playoffs last year. phils fans give this guy a pass no matter what it seems. he hasn’t been very good consistently. one time he’s great, the next time he absolutely stinks

  • Posts: 0 psujoe

    I admit I’d be a shitty GM, but I was clear about not wanting to pay more than $8 per for Jimmy. I wanted to trade for Scutaro who is just ridiculous. Of course, I wanted Jamey Carroll and his production was awful.

    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Typo: the “but” in the first sentence should be “and”.

      Scutaro is a pretty good player but let’s not get carried away. And he’s 36 (37 on Tuesday).

  • Posts: 0 Jaron B

    What gets me is his lack of dependability when they needed him the most… he blew lead after lead during Halladay’s stint on the DL. Had he had a 3.20 ERA in the 2nd trimester, Halladay’s loss would have been easier to take, reducing the pressure on the bullpen and maybe even making our late-season run unnecessary. His role as one of the FIRST links in the chain reaction past the injury bug that led to this semi-disastrous season is NOT deserving of an A-.

    1st Trimester (16.7%): B- (DL stint considered; deserved 1-3 wins)
    2nd Trimester (33.3%): C/C+ (Big role in sinking the Phils into the hole)
    3rd trimester (50.0%): A/A- (Redemption & Role in WC Run)

    Final Grade: Solid B (~85/100), a bit harsh but best I can give. He’d have an 89.5/100 had he been only half as bad in June & July than he actually was.

  • Posts: 0 Phillies fan from Germany

    There is way too much cherry picking here. You always have to consider all of the stats and those were simply very good. Maybe not great like in 2011 but still very good.

    You can’t just say 3 bad postseason starts is a trend. The sample is just so small that you can’t read anything out of it.

    What if Verlander pitches another bad game 5? Is he then all of a sudden a poor pitcher or somehow not a big game pitcher?

    Carpenter, the big time postseason hero lost 2 games in the NLCS. What happened?

    You could go on and on to show that small samples don’t mean anything.

    • Posts: 4409 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Good comment-
      And Verlander doesn’t have to pitch another bad game. If the Tiger fans are like ours, the one game last night soils his incredible career forever. The most common complaint is the one game last season where he blew the infamous “four run lead”. It’s like it’s permanently imprinted in their skulls now. All great pitchers stink up the joint now and then, it’s called- being human.

      As i stated before, why is it okay for a batter to go into slumps, but not pitchers. A batter’s timing can go a little off for a period, but his stats can remain relatively stable if he’s built up enough AB’s. So can a pitchers release point, or command. His ERA might not suffer much either if enough innings are built up, but we look at his games in sectors? I mean no harm to anyone, I just think it’s a little silly to ask a good pitcher to be perfect every outing, and it’s acceptable for good hitters to go 2 for 30 for a week or 10 days.

  • Posts: 2952 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    Once again, King Cliff gets a pass from MOST of the fans, including Corey. I agree with George that the A- grade is too high for all the reasons stated. He wasn’t dominant enough in enough games to warrant that grade. That said, I’m glad he’s here and will be an integral part of the ’13 rotation. God knows, we’ll need him with HUGE question marks surrounding Doc and Worley. Hamels and Lee at the top is a nice start.

  • Posts: 2068 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    I’ll admit that I too was frustrated with Lee’s performances in the mid-season. It seemed like everyone else on this team, the slump had spread like rot on an old loaf of bread – nearly everyone was affected somehow – nobody (except Chooch) could rise to the occasion.

    But Lee once again proved himself, his relentlessly game after game in August into September he pitched to the standards we had been used to watching with this wonder (OK, nothing will match last years 5-0 run).

    Lee is a huge boost to this team, his tenacity will pay off in 2013.

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