By R.J. Anderson //
Jayson Werth signing a $126 million deal with the Nationals figured to be the surprise of the off-season. Instead, Cliff Lee has outdone his former teammate by signing with the team they once shared. For all the talk about the Rangers and Yankees dueling over the ace’s services, in the end Philadelphia walked away with the biggest catch of the off-season.
Lee joins Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels to form possibly the best rotation in modern history (as Dave Cameron showed here, this rotation is comparable to the Atlanta Braves of the early-to-mid 1990s). Of course, fantasy owners are more interested in how Lee fares rather than the foursome as a whole. In particular, there’s a thought that looking at Lee’s time in Philly represents an accurate projection of what to expect from the 32-year-old.
Those stats include 12 starts in 2009, with 79 innings pitched (roughly six and a half innings per start, even though that’s impossible), a 3.39 ERA, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.4, and a win-loss record of 7-4. Believe it or not, Lee is probably better than some of those stats suggest. Over the past three seasons he’s compiled a 2.98 ERA, a 48-25 record, and a 5.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio between four different teams.
A stretch of dominance like Lee’s is hard to replicate for too long. Even Greg Maddux couldn’t keep up the frantic pace he posted from 1995 to 1997 (96 starts, 687 innings pitched, 53-17 win-loss, 2.21 ERA, and a 7.46 SO/BB, while walking fewer than one batter per nine innings pitched); Maddux’s 1998 included a 2.22 ERA, 18-9 record, and a 4.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Fall off? Hardly, but expecting a slight stepback is safer for expectations than holding Lee to his own superhuman track record. The table below shows how each of the top five pitching seasons (as determined by K/BB ratio) fared in K/BB and ERA the next season. Each pitcher saw his strikeout-to-walk ratio decline and his ERA increase (with one exception), a sign that Lee probably won’t upon his historic 2010 season:
Double-digit wins (wins are heavily influenced by factors beyond a pitcher’s control), 200-plus innings, and a sub-3.50 ERA seem reasonable enough. And given that it’s Lee, there is a chance he might blow those conservative projections away. He’ll be one of the first pitchers off the board come draft time – as will three of his rotation mates. Deservedly so.