Cliff Lee Finds the NL to His Liking

Cliff Lee has taken to the NL well. He is 4-0 in his first four starts:

|       | IP |  H |  R | HR | BB |  K |
| @ SFN |  9 |  4 |  1 |  0 |  2 |  6 |
|   COL |  7 |  6 |  1 |  0 |  1 |  9 |
| @ CHN |  8 |  6 |  1 |  0 |  3 |  8 |
|   ARI |  9 |  2 |  1 |  0 |  0 | 11 |

Two complete games, a 34 to 6 K:BB ratio and no HRs. Cliff Lee has provided more than the Phillies could have hoped, and helped to keep them 5.5 games up in the NL East division.

Lee throws a fastball, cutter, curve, slider and changeup. Over those four games he threw his fastball 2/3 of time to lefties, but only half of the time to righties. He made up for it, for the most part, with more changeups and cutters to righties. Like many pitchers he goes up-and-in with the cutter and down-and-away with the change to opposite handed-batters. Over the past four games he executed that plan to a T, keeping both pitches out of the middle of the plate but still in the zone. Here are the location of the pitches with swinging strikes indicated.
Anytime a pitcher can get some many pitches along the edges of the zone, and induce swings that far out of the zone he is going to be successful.

Of course we do not expect Lee to preform as he has these past four games going forward. Our estimate of his true talent is only marginally changed after a four game span. Still he is a very good pitcher, and a great addition to the Phillies’s playoff push and potential playoff rotation.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

31 Responses to “Cliff Lee Finds the NL to His Liking”

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  1. Joe R says:

    Obviously Lee is really good so this may be a bit off base but…

    AL-NL talent gap again?

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    • don says:

      His K/BB rate for all of last year was 5.0. Since the trade it’s 5.67 including facing pitchers.

      His BABIP is low and the 0% HR/FB rate is going to make the FIP look really good.

      The talent gap is there but luck is making up some of the difference too.

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  2. Mark says:

    Could be, Joe. Could also be that three of those games were against teams in the bottom half of OPS. And we all know how great the SF offense is.

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    • Joe R says:

      I don’t care if it is the D-backs, though, CG, 11 K, 0 BB, 2 hitter is absolute dominance.

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      • Joe R says:

        SSS obviously, but just saying it’s been pretty much ownage so far for Lee. 1.66 FIP so far in Philly. They must be happy.

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  3. KingKirkpatrick says:

    AL >>>>> NL.

    Not close right now

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  4. joe says:

    …And the phillies are still kicking themselves for not getting Halladay, because they know it would have been 4 Cg’s and a couple of shutouts instead.


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  5. Eric says:

    I took all pitchers who pitched for exactly two teams in one season, 1999-2008, where one was from each league and a minimum of 50IP for each, grouped them by AL-NL vs NL-AL.

    The AL-NL guys went from 4.77 to 3.94, while the NL-AL went from 5.12 to 5.24.

    The AL league average was 4.56 and 4.37 for the NL, so the AL guys averaged 0.21 runs below average before the trade and 0.41 better than average afterward [total gain relative to league of 0.62 runs].

    The NL guys averaged 0.75 runs below average in the NL and 0.68 runs below average in the AL. [+0.07 runs relative to league]

    One thing I did notice was that overall, the AL had a .286 BABIP and .284 for the NL… Pretty even.

    The NL-AL guys went from .294 to .287, that is slightly unlucky to about league average. The AL-NL guys went from .296 to .275.

    If BABIP, outside of knuckleballers is mostly or completely luck, then it looks like the difference for these moved players is heavily tied to good luck…

    LG, Before … After
    AL, -0.21

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    • joe says:

      .275 is not nearly enough of a change to call luck, that would simply be explained with random variance.

      Now, if it was more like .250…

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  6. Tom says:

    Joe is right, it is simply random variance. How big was the sample size? Any inclination toward standard deviations in data?

    Most people forget the change in league is 2-pronged…1) DH Rule 2) Ballpark change

    The ballpark difference could be huge as a majority of pitcher parks are in the NL (also generally have bigger foul ground as well). Regarding Lee, his dominance is even more astonishing considering the park. Would Halladay have performed the same? It is more likely yes than no, but I think the performance thus far is above the great pitcher threshold and leaning toward Greinke’s start to the season.

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  7. Eric says:

    The samples were:

    NL->AL 1512 IP->1102IP
    AL->NL 1973IP->1514 IP

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  8. Eric says:

    Doing a weighted average on the PPFs, I get

    NL->AL 101.8->99.7
    AL->NL 98.8->101.0

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  9. David A says:

    Does anyone know what the salary differences are for hitters in the AL vs. NL? (You would have to do avg sal per team since NL has more teams.) I would imagine that with the DH, AL teams spend quite a bit more, but I am not sure how big the difference is. Would be interesting to compare this to the estimate for DH impact.

    The other side of this is of course, the amt spent on pitching per team. I would suspect that AL teams spend more here also. Because the hitting is better, the pitching almost has to be; else the avg scores would be significantly higher. And if AL teams have more money to spend overall, it would stand to reason that they would spend more on both sides of the equation.

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    • David A says:

      OK I just did this real quickly myself and it’s about 93M per team in the AL vs 84M per team in the NL. About 11% higher in the AL.That’s total team salary, I don’t have the hitting/pitching breakdown. I also took the outliers out from each league (NYY, NYM, FL, OAK) and it’s about the same, maybe closer to 10% higher for AL.

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  10. Eric says:

    Increasing the sample to 20 years:

    IP 3259->2137
    PPF 100.2->100.4
    ERA 4.54->4.89
    BABIP .288->.290

    IP 2895->2113
    PPF 99.7->100.1
    ERA 4.56->3.72
    BABIP .294->.276

    AVG AL PPF 100.24
    AVG NL PPF 100.26

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  11. Eric says:

    Meant to include league averages with that…

    AL .284 BABIP and 4.48 ERA
    NL .281 BABIP and 4.20 ERA

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  12. joe says:

    Well i don’t think there can possibly be any argument, the AL is definitely better than the NL by a large margin.

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  13. Andrew says:

    In a very deep 16-team 3 keeper league, is Cliff Lee now the better keeper than Jon Lester? It’s just an insane how dominant he’s been since coming to Philly. He’s looking very 2008.

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    • joe says:

      31 vs 25


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      • Andrew says:

        Why does age matter? Halladay is 32 as well and that is basically the peak age for baseball players. Santana is 30, and there is no question that you would keep those guys over any SP in MLB except for Lincecum.

        I’m going by past/expected performance and Lester was BAD at the beginning of the season.

        I’m keeping A-Rod too.

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      • joe says:

        Expected performance has Lester becoming a top 3 southpaw and Lee regressing some bit. You can thank Boston’s terribad defense for that bad start too.

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      • Andrew says:

        That is ridiculous. And assuming he becomes a top three LHP for 2009, then there is no question the other two guys are Lee and Santana. MAYBE Sabathia. Which is why this a tough choice.

        I would say the top 3 LHP fantasy guys for 2010 will be: Lee, Santana, Sabathia. I don’t see Lester getting picked before the 3rd round.

        And re: Boston’s terribad defense. Has he been traded or something? I’m pretty sure he will be playing for Boston next season too…Jason Bay will PROBABLY still be playing LF. There might be some defensive upgrade at 3rd base, but that’s it.

        Keep in mind I’m not talking about talent, but fantasy baseball.

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      • joe says:

        You already said that you are in a keeper league, so evaluating a players future is very important. I would agree with Lee and Sabathia in the top fantasy picks, but Santana has been declining since 2007 and choosing him is a walk on thin ice.

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      • Andrew says:

        With each absolutely dominating outing this gets tougher and tougher. I can totally see Lee winning 20 games next season. He goes really deep into games, will get a ton of run support, will have a solid bullpen, leads MLB in quality starts, and doesn’t give up the long ball so I don’t think playing in a bandbox will hurt him that much.

        Again, I think for keepers you have to go by the logic of who will get drafted first. I really really don’t think anyone is going to draft Lester before Santana or Lee in any league. And with the news that just came out, maybe Santana’s been so bad lately because of elbow problems. And even if he’s in decline, he’s still a top 10 SP.

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  14. Jamie says:

    7 more shutout innings.

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  15. sam says:

    Sabathia is 29, not 30 – he turned 29 on July 21, so he’s not even close to 30 yet. There’s actually a big difference, not the least of which is psychological. Saying CC is 30 is disingenuous.

    He’s in his peak years right now, and should be for the life of his Yankee contract (3 years, $66MM before opting out for a new contract with west coast team). And yes, I am a Yankee fan who hopes CC opts out when he’s 31. That would be a great deal for the Bombers. We get his peak years for $66MM and send him on his way for his decline phase. Yes please.

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  16. Andy says:

    Also remember when you say AL > NL, Cliff Lee doesn’t have to pitch against one of the best offenses in the NL, the Phillies and in Cleveland, he wasn’t pitching against one of the worst offenses, so the differences in Cliff Lee’s opposing lineups are magnified.

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