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Cliff Lee the big red dud

Cliff Lee the big red dud

Cliff Lee the big red dud

Cliff Lee finally won a game at home.  It took him 11 months and 21 days since his last victory at Citizens Bank Park, but he finally earned that first home win.  It has been a miserable season for Clifton Phifer Lee to say the least.  The former Cy Young Award winner collected just his third win of the season on Sunday. While the Phillies were expecting a repeat of last season’s success, they instead received the 31st best ERA among NL Starters.

Cliff Lee epitomizes the 2012 Phillies season: he finds different ways to lose every game. Had Cliff Lee been winning at the same rate as last season, he would be 12-6 versus 3-7 and things would be a hint sunnier in Philadelphia. It would also flip the Phillies record from 61-67 to 70-66; from 6  games under .500 to 4 games above .500; from 9.5 games out in the Wild Card to 3.5 games back.

Or imagine this: what if Cliff Lee replicated his 2008 Cy Young season in which he went 22-3…

He would have a 16-2 record right now and the Phillies would be 74-62, 12 games over .500, and just a half game out of the Wild Card.

But Cliff Lee is not 16-2 right now, he is 3-7.  Why?

Last week Jayson Stark weighed in on Cliff Lee and offered, “Part of it is he’s pitched the whole season with no margin for error and I think that’s weighing on him and I don’t blame him for that.  But it’s still not good enough.”

There’s no way around the fact that Cliff Lee has run into some pretty bad luck this season, but he’s not blameless, either. So, what can we attribute his lack of success this season?

Lee's 3.67 ERA in 2012 is certainly not compatible with his .300 win percentage, especially considering he owns a career .616 winning percentage with a nearly identical 3.65 career ERA. Heck, Kyle Kendrick has not suffered a losing season thus far despite a 4.36 career ERA.

Lack of offensive support undoubtedly offers part of the answer, as Lee has the 27th worst run support (3.96 runs per game) among the 95 qualified starters. That figure drops to 3.06 runs per game while Lee was still the pitcher of record. Lee was particularly victimized by his offense in April and May, when the Phillies scored just 12 runs for him in eight starts, including a game in which he pitched 10 scoreless innings without a single run of support.

Defense and the bullpen also played a role in Lee's demise, which clearly frustrated him. As Jayson Stark explained, "When a fielder makes an error, as upsetting as that may be to any pitcher…they’re allowed to get the next guy out. They’re allowed to pitch over that stuff. The sad story of Cliff Lee’s year is, he just hasn’t done a good enough job of doing that consistently.”

I went through each of Cliff's games to determine how much of the responsibility was his and how much belonged to the rest of the team. Using no scientific approach, I subjectively assigned blame in each of his games. In some cases (like in the 10 scoreless innings game in which the hitting was entirely to blame) I faulted only one area, while in others I blamed more than one.

Through this most unscientific of studies, here is the breakdown of how many times different areas deserved blame:

Lack of offense: 10
Lee blew the lead: 9
Lee's poor performance: 6
Bullpen: 3
Lee not good enough in winnable game: 2
Defense: 1
Lee created early deficit: 1

In total, Lee was to blame in 18 cases while the team was to blame in 14 cases. So, what does that mean? Well, for the most part it just tells us what we already really knew, that Lee ran into his fair share of bad luck, but he created many of his own problems.

Rather than unnecessarily dive into a deeper analysis, let's finish with one more quote from Jayson Stark. "The reason he’s got two wins (now three) has a lot to do with supporting cast, but it has a lot to do with him, too.”

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Cliff Lee the big red dud 
by Scott Butler 8/27/12

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