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.
By R.J. Anderson //
A few things about David Price’s fastball were evident entering Wednesday night’s start versus the Boston Red Sox:
1) It goes fast:
Pitchfx data has his average four-seamer at 94.8 MPH and his two-seamer clocking in at 90.7 MPH.
2) Hard to hit:
A poll of, say, 300 baseball fans right now asking which starting pitcher has the fastball most difficult to hit would probably yield results that showed Stephen Strasburg’s heater near the top. As it turns out, Strasburg gets whiffs 9.2% of the time. Price? 9.1%. Not too shabby.
3) He uses it a lot:
More than 70% of the time, as it turns out.
Combine that information with a Boston lineup missing Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Drew (Drew not for health reasons) and nothing about Wednesday night’s game should surprise. Price’s fastball sat around 93-95 all night long, topping out at 96.9 MPH. He threw it constantly. Thirty-nine of his first 40 pitches were heaters, 100 of 111 overall. He pounded the zone with it too; more than 75% of his fastballs were strikes of either swinging, called, or foul variety.
The most amazing aspect of the start was that as Price continued to pump fastballs, everyone sort of caught on. Undoubtedly the Red Sox realized he was doing his best Mariano Rivera impression by tossing almost nothing but fireballs, yet they simply couldn’t hit any of them. Not only did Price strike out 10 Red Sox (while allowing only two earned runs and walking one), he also turned up 19 swinging strikes on those 100 fastballs. That’s an absurd 19% whiff rate. As mentioned before, Price’s seasonal rate is a little less than half that. To say Price’s heater was working in all its glory last night then, is an understatement.
Graphic courtesy of FanGraphs.com
All in all, it was one of the best starts of Price’s season. Which is really saying something, since Price leads the American League in wins (with 12), trails only Cliff Lee in ERA (2.42), and has shown progress in various fielding independent metrics (3.61 FIP). The former number-one pick is bridging the gap between potential and production in only his second full season in the majors.
If you own Price in a keeper league, go ahead and slap the franchise tag on him. If you own him otherwise, sit back and continue to enjoy the maturation of a rising ace.
For more on David Price and other Egyptian-based dinosaur deities, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
By R.J. Anderson //
Most people presumed Cliff Lee would be a good fit for the Mariners when they acquired him this off-season. When an abdomen injury pushed his season back a few weeks, the condition alleviated some of the buzz surrounding him. Lee is five starts into his 2010 season and still people seem to look elsewhere when discussing the best starters to date. That’s a mistake. Not only is Lee pitching well; he’s pitching better than he ever has before.
Lee is averaging a little over seven innings per start, which totals 36.2 innings pitched. He’s struck out 32 batters and walked one. That would be a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 32, which is simply unheard of. The best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball history (for pitchers with at least 100 innings in a single season) is 11 – posted by Bret Saberhagen in 1994. Ben Sheets‘ 2006 season is the only other case of a double-digit strikeout-to-walk rate for a starting pitcher with at least 100 IP.
Aside from Saberhagen and Sheets, Curt Schilling is the only other pitcher to break the 9 K/BB barrier, which is fitting. During Schilling’s later years with the Diamondbacks, ESPN would always joke about whether Schilling’s win total would exceed his walk total. Now, Schilling never actually accomplished the feat, but Lee very well could. In fact, Lee actually has more wins (two) than walks at this moment – and given his performance to date, should have more wins, if not for lousy run support and other factors beyond his control.
Also, Lee has yet to allow a home run. That tidbit, combined with the walks and strikeouts, make his 3.44 ERA look absurdly high. Lee’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) allowed is .341. That’s well above league average around .300 as well as his career norms, and should regress given that he’s supported by one of the best defenses in baseball, in a park that suits left-handed pitchers very well.
Lee’s FIP – which takes defense out of the equation – is a microscopic 1.44. His xFIP – which normalizes home run rates (i.e. attempts to strip out even more luck) – is a still excellent 2.93. Lee’s Cy Young winning xFIP was 3.57. Last year it was 3.69. He’s about a half run per nine innings better than when he was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Now, don’t expect Lee to pitch quite this well all season; history tells us his walk and home run totals can’t stay this low forever. But he’s still a true elite pitcher, and can reasonably be mentioned in the same breath as Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez and other star hurlers. Unless the plan is to ship him away for future help in deep keeper leagues, there’s no reason to trade or bench Lee. Instead, appreciate how great he really is.
Oh, and give kudos to the only batter Lee walked this year: Evan Longoria.
For more on Cliff Lee and other aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.