Cliff Lee’s Results in Texas

Cliff Lee struck out 10 batters, walked one, and didn’t allow a home run in 7.2 innings in last night’s start against the Tampa Bay Rays. Lee gave up six earned runs, taking the loss in the 6-4 contest.

Remarkably, this performance increased Lee’s ERA with Texas to 3.44, and his record with his new team fell to 2-3. The increase doesn’t seem too ridiculous, until you consider that Lee, in his 65.1 innings with Texas, has struck out 58 batters, unintentionally walked two batters, and allowed 4 home runs. Tonight’s outing brings Lee’s FIP ever closer to 2.00, a mark that becomes even more impressive given the higher degree of difficulty in attaining a 2.00 FIP as opposed to a 2.00 ERA.

And yet, Lee’s results with Texas are relatively underwhelming. Lee’s 3.44 ERA equals those of fellow veteran left-handers Ted Lilly and Barry Zito. His win% below .500 is hardly becoming of a staff ace designed to navigate the rough and tumble playoffs. Although those watching the game can clearly tell that Lee is an elite pitcher, right now, his effect on the team hasn’t been of one.

Naturally, poor luck is involved. This sequence against the Rays in the eighth inning tonight, in which Tampa scored the final four of their six runs, doesn’t exactly scream good contact.


[Click to enlarge]

This play log doesn’t even do the inning justice. The Rays mustered a total of two line drives in the inning – B.J. Upton‘s double (more of a bloop than a liner) and Carlos Pena‘s single. Other than that, it was grounder after grounder. Jason Bartlett reached on an infield single. Carl Crawford reached on a fielder’s choice ground ball because shortstop Joaquin Arias made an ill-advised attempt to retire the lead runner instead of taking the out at first. Evan Longoria grounded to center, and after Pena’s line drive single, Ben Zobrist capped off the inning with a grounder to left.

The sequence is clearly a case where the mantra of “process over results” shines through, as any claim that Lee’s 10 strikeout, one walk start was anything short of masterful would be blind to the mitigating factors surrounding his pitching. He couldn’t control Upton’s bloop double, nor Arias’s misplay, nor, for the most part, the fact that grounders went to the holes instead of at fielders.

Starts such as the one last night are nothing for the Rangers to worry about. The Rangers are still 17 games above .500 and eight games clear of the second place Angels. They’re clearly the most talented team in the division. Lee has pitched like an ace during his time with Texas. It’s only a matter of time before the results fall in line.




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43 Responses to “Cliff Lee’s Results in Texas”

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  1. Jamie says:

    he hit a rough spot in about the same exact time frame with the phillies last year.

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    • Texas_Dawg says:

      He hasn’t hit any rough spot with Texas at all.

      He was dominant last night. If Joaquin Arias and Jorge Cantu don’t turn 3 straight infield outs into 0 outs, Lee is through 8 innings in less than 90 pitches with 10 strikeouts to 1 BB.

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    • waynetolleson says:

      He didn’t hit any rough spot. Texas’ defense was astoundingly horrific in the eighth inning last night. Average defense and Lee faces three or four batters that inning. There was a pop fly where two fielders were staring at each other. There was a grounder that the 3B could have gotten to. A batter reached because the 2B tried to get a lead runner at second rather than taking the sure out at first. And Andrus missed a ball that he should have fielded.

      The Rangers gave away three or four outs in that inning. Even the best pitchers are gonna struggle when the team doesn’t make routine plays behind him.

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  2. Dragonzigg says:

    The point being made though is that he’s not hit a rough patch – he’s pitching better than ever. It’s just bad luck that’s conspired to make his results look poor.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      If luck goes against you and things just don’t seem to go your way, wouldn’t you call that “hitting a rough spot”?

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      • Josh Garoon says:

        Not when the comparison is to the same time last year, no.

        Because bringing the timing into it implies something about Lee, not about random bad luck.

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  3. Texas_Dawg says:

    Upton’s double wasn’t even a “bloop.” It was a pop up just beyond the infield that Joaquin Arias completely botched.

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  4. Mike Green says:

    Jorge Cantu will turn outs into hits, from time to time. It’s part of the package.

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  5. khup says:

    Let’s not absolve Lee completely here — he clearly did not have his best command in the 8th.

    Upton: catcher set up inside, pitch left over the middle
    Barlett: catcher set up inside, pitch left over the middle
    Crawford: catcher set up outside, pitch left over the middle
    Pena: catcher set up outside, pitch left over the middle

    Video link: http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100816&content_id=13531386&vkey=recap&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb

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    • Matt says:

      Good point. And while it’s great that he got 10 strike outs, he wasn’t getting any that inning while his defense was failing him.

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    • Jack Moore says:

      Fair enough – this is why I wish it were possible to watch every game.

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      • Josh Garoon says:

        Upton’s bloop should have been caught, though, no matter where the pitch wound up. That’s two outs. There’s a strong argument to be made that even Michael Young would’ve recorded the out on Bartlett’s infield hit. That’s the inning. And if Arias goes to first on Crawford’s ball, that’s another out.

        Obviously, you can’t just counter-factually project events post hoc like this. And Lee certainly isn’t completely free from blame. But to pretend that the defense behind Lee wasn’t almost entirely to blame for that inning is disingenuous.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Uh-oh, you suggested that Lee missed his spots on 4 of the “bad luck” situations.

      It happens. Even the best marksmen of the mound miss their spots, and often suffer when they do.

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  6. Francisco Liriano says:

    Man, this Cliff Lee guy has some bad luck.

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  7. Sam says:

    Lee was masterful, no doubt.

    The article misses one point though. With Rays, you have to miss bats. And Lee did not miss bats once there were men on base. Well, he did strike out Sean Rodriguez, but otherwise did not miss bats. With the kind of speed Rays have, you have to assume that BABIP will be high not because of dumb luck, but due to Rays ability to sustain a high BABIP. The FIP does not really distinguish this fine point, and therefore overweights Lee’s overall performance.

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  8. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Lee was let down by his defense, but the Rays speed and aggressiveness, put the pressure on the Rangers to make plays. On a tangent, I’m envious that the Rangers play in such an easy division so that they can rest Cruz, Kinsler, etc… If they played those guys, I don’t think the Rays would have won, must be nice to have that luxury.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    I wonder if Cliff Lee will ever give up a non-HR run that is his fault?

    It cracks me up that we only look at it as “bad luck on non HR balls”, and never “he’s been lucky that some balls have stayed in the park”.

    At least this article attempted to look at the actual hits … at least for one pitcher.

    For the lack of in depth research that vusually occurs here, there might be 10 other top pitchers that have given up “weak runs” like this … and maybe multiple times.

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    • redsox9322 says:

      “It cracks me up that we only look at it as “bad luck on non HR balls”, and never “he’s been lucky that some balls have stayed in the park”.”

      In fact, this is exactly what the much-maligned xFIP tries to do, by adjusting FIP so that every pitcher is presumed to allow the same fraction of HR on FB (and I know that this isn’t the case for some pitchers, such as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum; for the majority of pitchers, though, normalizing HR/FB provides a good “luck-adjusted” measure of HR tendency).

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Do the negative votes imply that Lee is the only pitcher that gives up cheap runs on BIP once in a while? (Attribution of bad luck without look at spray charts, batting velocity, pitch location, etc)

      Or that Lee won’t ever give up a run that was his fault?

      I ask because as a former tall, cutter-throwing lefty, I’m as big of a fan of Lee as anyone (probably more than most) … and even I get sick of the justification on anything that doesn’t go his way.

      When every else not named Halladay or Lee gives up cheap runs, it’s called “regression”. With Lee it’s called “bad luck”.

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  10. tdotsports1 says:

    This guys has been other-wordly.

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  11. WY says:

    What about his 7th inning performance last week against the Yankees? There were plenty of hard-hit balls there.

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    • Josh Garoon says:

      Oh good grief. Nobody’s claiming the guy’s a god. (Nobody rational, anyhow). He’s going to have bad games, especially against arguably best offensive team in baseball.

      But if you watched the 8th inning (not to mention the rest) of the game last night, it’s simply inconceivable to me that you’d conclude that Lee was anything but on, and that the runs he allowed (and the loss) were on him.

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    • RQ says:

      That game was in 102 degree heat and he admitted that he was laboring in the 6th and 7th. This was played indoors at 72 degrees. If Arias would have been DFA’d months ago, then the inning is over after only 4 batters and none reach second base. He made the pitches he wanted to make and got the ballof the bat he wanted, just not the defense behind him. Everyone is allowed a bad inning here and there. This is looking at his 2+ months overall.

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      • Will says:

        Could you make the case that the Rangers have been leaving him in games too long?

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      • Ben says:

        Will: Lee definitely hasn’t been overextended in terms of pitch count since he came to Texas as he usually finishes around 110, with a max of 118.

        What might have been a problem last night was that the Rangers had extended tops of the 7th and 8th innings (both around 20-30 minutes due to Maddon’s reliever carouselling), and he did seem to leave a few balls over the middle of the plate in the bottom of the eighth.

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  12. baty says:

    “Lee has pitched like an ace during his time with Texas. It’s only a matter of time before the results fall in line.”

    Lee has shown that he is absolutely mastering his craft. I think the results are pretty reflective to his formula and approach (defensive miscues aside). A guy with average FB velocity, average FB/GB%, and a constant presence within the strike zone should be prone to allowing inconsistent results from time to time.

    “Tonight’s outing brings Lee’s FIP ever closer to 2.00, a mark that becomes even more impressive given the higher degree of difficulty in attaining a 2.00 FIP as opposed to a 2.00 ERA.”

    Every other pitcher in the top 10 for FIP either has a far superior GB/FB% or a few extra ticks of FB velocity. I understand it’s flaky logic, but he is obviously a very different pitcher than the rest of his dominating peers. I wonder if his FIP is slightly better than what he really is.

    To say that the results still aren’t good enough, makes me feel like we are making Cliff Lee out to be near invincible and way too good. Since going to Texas he’s gone 8+ IP 6 out of 8 starts and has an ERA of 3.44 compared to a ZIPS rest of season FIP of 2.98. I will take the stance that he has pitched and received results that are about what we should expect.

    To me the issue has more to do with the lack of run support he has received (the disappearance of Vlad to be specific)… not giving the general public what they perceive to be good results with Cliff Lee on the mound (wins). I feel like people are starting embellish beyond what has only been pretty tremendous year.

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  13. Jon Lester says:

    Lee got call after call last night!!! When your as good as Lee you shouldn’t get any help!!! He got the high, low, inside and outside call….I think of the 10 hitters he struck out 8 was looking!!!!! You guys really need to watch the game!!!!

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  14. Josh Garoon says:

    This thread has got me wondering: Jack, do you have a subscription to mlb.tv?

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  15. SSO says:

    More crappy FIP excuses, typical!

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  16. Jamie says:

    SOOOO, i said on 08/17 “he hit a rough patch last year at this time” and got berated.

    in his last 4 starts he’s given up 23 runs.

    in 2009 he had a 3 game stretch giving up ~17 runs(end of august, 2 starts in sept.)

    in 2008 the last 3 starts of the season he gave up 14 runs.

    he just normally hits a rough patch in august/sept. most pitchers do i would assume.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      … and yet his fWAR keeps climbing even faster.

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    • Texas_Dawg says:

      Do you even know what xFIP is?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        His fWAR keeps going up because regardless of how many runs he gives up, he doesn’t walk anyone and strikes out quite a few. He could give up 10 runs on 27 hits and his fWAR wouldn’t lower, provided he K’d 10 and walked 1.

        Are you saying his WAR doesn’t keep going up?

        I ask because over his last 4 bad starts, he’s jumped up the leaderboard from like 6th to 2nd. Meanwhile, in rWAR, he’s at 4.0 and moving toward league average rather than elite or CYA winner. 4 bad starts should move you the other direction shouldn’t it?

        Last 4 starts:
        [1] 6.1 IP, 4 ER, 11 K, 0 BB, 0 HR
        [2] 7.2 IP, 6 ER, 10 K, 1 BB, 0 HR
        [3] 5.2 IP, 8 ER, 4K, 1 BB, 4 HR
        [4] 5 IP, 5 ER, 5 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
        Total: 24.2 IP, 23 ER, 30 K, 3 BB, 5 HR

        FIP: 3.77
        ERA: 8.56

        I know it’s due to bad luck, especially since he doesn’t have any good outfielders, so it is completely reasonable that he’s moving up the fWAR leaderboard. Obviously, I am complaining about fWAR, and not hating on Cliff Lee. I still think we should average fWAR based on FIP, and rWAR based on runs allowed. We’re saying Cliff Lee played no part (0% penalty) in the 18 non-HR ER he gave up in 24 IP.

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      • Jamie says:

        i just had a question answered for me over at the Book Blog relating to this. how much different rwar and fwar are. and as circlechange says, you basically have to average the true to get something closer to where the pitcher stands.

        while his defense may have let him down a little, he’s still giving up all of those runs and rwar is holding him accountable while fwar isn’t.

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