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.
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.