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Update: Cliff Lee is Still Good

Is it just me or has there been a recent dearth of articles focused on Cliff Lee lately? It seems like all the major sources used up their Cliff Quota earlier in the year when he looked more like a fluke than now when he seems to be much more for real. Regardless, it’s time to check back in with our AL Cy Young Award-favorite and see how his season looks and what it might look like when September ends… and wake me up when that happens… ten points to whomever catches that reference.

In 23 starts, Lee has gone 161.2 innings, giving up 152 hits—just 7 of which are home runs—and 22 walks while fanning 128 batters. His HR/9 of 0.39 leads all of baseball, as do his 1.22 BB/9 and 5.82 K/BB. He has a 2.45 ERA which happens to be lower than any other starter and his FIP, which could show whether or not he has been lucky or unlucky, comes in a mere three-hundredths of a point higher at 2.48… which also happens to be the best in the bigs.

Another indicator of luck is BABIP, where we would expect someone not “for real” to have a very, very low mark; Lee’s is right around the average .300 at .307. His strand rate is 78.1% which, while very impressive, is not ridiculously unsustainable, especially for someone pitching on as elite of a level as Lee. All of these numbers have translated into a league best 4.97 WPA, a league best 3.90 WPA/LI, and a league best 4.07 REW.*

*There have been a lot of questions regarding REW. To clarify, it is Wins based on shifts in Run Expectancy, not Win Expectancy. It is essentially BRAA (Batting Runs Above Average) quantified in terms of Wins.

Seems like I’ve been writing the words ‘league’ and ‘best’ an awful lot so far. I’d stop, but the Indians lefty happens to lead baseball in many important categories. A really interesting note is his shift in GB/FB ratio. Prior to this year his ratio had never topped 0.84, whereas right now he has a 1.29, meaning he has been inducing many more groundballs. Not only does it seem that Lee’s numbers are the results of skills rather than luck, he seems to have become a different type of pitcher.

His in-season projection calls for 61 IP, 58 H, 6 HR, 15 BB, and 42 K over his remaining nine starts which would result in the following seasonal line: 32 GS, 222 IP, 210 H, 13 HR, 37 BB, 170 K, 1.11 WHIP, 2.78 ERA, 2.79 FIP.

Tom Tango discussed a really interesting way of turning the +WPA and -WPA found here into a W-L metric, so what happens when we plug Lee into that equation? His 16-2 becomes a 13-3, so his W-L has done a pretty good job of letting the public know how good he has been. With that in mind, has this guy already wrapped up a Cy Campaign? Is there any way he doesn’t win the award? I mean, his remaining nine starts are calling for a bit of a regression and even if he regresses more than that his numbers should still end up better than any other AL starter. If not, who would step in and take it away?