One of the benefits of never walking anyone is that you generally throw fewer pitches per batter and get to last deeper in games. With Cliff Lee running 1910-like walk rates his bullpen can figuratively safely go get smashed the night before any of his starts. Lee’s last start lasting just 6.1 innings was his shortest outing since equaling that total on May 21. Those two are the shortest he has worked all season long.
It’s not just that Lee has consistently gotten into the 7th inning, it’s that he’s consistently gotten into the 9th. 15 of his 20 starts so far have gone at least eight innings. Seven of those have gone a full nine. That sort of efficiency puts Cliff Lee in some rarefied air. With 161.1 innings pitched over those 20 starts, Lee is averaging 8.1 innings for every start the he makes.
I do not have historical numbers on how that exactly ranks, but I can use the slightly more general number of innings pitched per game to put Lee’s performance thus far into greater context. Since 1950 (a rather arbitrary year chosen to get past the early years and the World War II years), there have been just 49 pitchers to hurl at least 160 innings and average at least eight innings per appearance. Lee currently sits 40th on that list nestled between Tom Seaver’s 1973 season and Alex Kellner’s 1953 campaign.
Obviously, pitchers threw more innings the further back we go in history. Complete games used to be the norm instead of the exception. To get a sense of this one just needs to look at those 49 pitchers arranged in chronological order. Aside from Lee, the last pitcher to cross that eight-inning barrier was Greg Maddux in 1994. And before him, the last time it occurred was in 1983 when both Ron Guidry and Mario Soto did it.
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