The Dumbest Thing You’ll Read All Year

Before I link you to an article, here are some facts:

  • Clifton Phifer Lee ranks third in Major League Baseball in strikeouts as a percentage of batters faced (27.4%)
  • Lee is one of only 13 pitchers in MLB with a walk rate under 5%
  • Lee has the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball
  • Lee has the 10th-best FIP (2.97), sandwiched between Matt Cain and Jered Weaver
  • Lee has the third-best xFIP (2.66), sandwiched between Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez
  • Lee has the third-best SIERA (2.53), sandwiched between Zack Grienke and Cole Hamels (who is well behind at 2.85)
  • Lee is inducing ground balls at a 52% rate, easily a career-high
  • Lee has not had a game xFIP greater than 3.77 in any of his starts in 2012. For comparison, Jered Weaver has a 3.73 xFIP on the season. Lee’s worst start has been about as good as Weaver has been on average all season.

Now, the article. It’s from Bleacher Report. That is your warning to avoid clicking the link. But you’ll miss the overwhelming stupidity.

Cliff Lee: Philadelphia Phillies Fans Should All Be Fed Up with Lee

Some quotes:

…the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans should be expecting—and getting—more from Cliff Lee.

Lee has the same exact ERA he had in 2010 when he finished with the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in Major League history (10.3; Bret Saberhagen has the record with 11.0 set in 1994). Lee also finished seventh in AL Cy Young voting that year, splitting time with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, the latter which he helped bring to the World Series.

This season, Lee is the third-highest-paid pitcher in all of baseball, behind the Mets’ Johan Santana and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia. For $21.5 million, Lee is not getting it done, and at some point, he lost the ability to shut teams down once the Phillies have the lead.

Lee’s OPS allowed by score margin:

  • Tie game: .678
  • Within one run: .680
  • Within two runs: .680
  • Within three runs: .691
  • Within four runs: .691

Again, factually incorrect.

It started in the NLDS last season against the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. After the Phillies roared back to crush the Cardinals 11-6 in Game 1, they handed Lee a 4-0 lead that should have put the NLDS on ice. 

However, Lee was torched by the likes of Ryan Theriot, Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal to blow the lead, the game, the series and the season.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. I went through each hit individually (with .gifs!) after that game and concluded that Lee was truly at fault for four of the 12 hits he allowed. The Cardinals got a lot of lucky, dinky hits. Here are some of the hits the author cites:

Theriot

Jay

Furcal

This is the problem with the “I watch the games!” (and nothing else) crowd — their memory is colored by future events. If the Phillies went on to win that series and Cliff Lee was 10-0 with a 2.00 ERA this year, then that NLDS start isn’t viewed nearly as negatively. However, because the Phillies lost in five games to the Cardinals, and because Lee is unluckily winless through ten starts, his NLDS start is remembered much more negatively than is necessary.

Let’s examine some of Lee’s starts this season

From above: Lee has not had a game xFIP greater than 3.77 in any of his starts in 2012. For comparison, Jered Weaver has a 3.73 xFIP on the season. Lee’s worst start has been about as good as Weaver has been on average all season.

As the stats have shown, Lee has been Cy Young-caliber through ten starts. He’s winless because he has had the fourth-worst run support in baseball. Remember that time Lee threw ten (ten!) scoreless innings in San Francisco and his team lost 1-0? Cliff Lee didn’t get it done with the bat, and he gets a free pass for that!

Now, look at these teams and think of how offensively challenged they are

He lists the Mets, Astros, and Dodgers as “offensively challenged” even though they all have above-average offenses: 4.30, 4.35, and 4.35 runs per game, respectively, compared to the 4.18 league average.

The rest of the article is talk radio caller material and might cause an aneurysm if you are able to get to that point.

This 2012 season has been frustrating, for sure. There are a lot of reasons why the Phillies have been severe underachievers, but Cliff Lee is not one of them. Lashing out at him, rather than the 20 or so other worthy candidates reflects poorly on the Phillies fan base. We should have moved on from scapegoating the team’s best player, but Lee appears to be the latest in a group that includes Cole Hamels, Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen, and Curt Schilling.

Then again, this is par for the course for Bleacher Report, the absolute lowest in sportswriting this side of newspaper website comments.

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31 comments

  1. Cutter

    June 12, 2012 08:52 AM

    Here’s where people can get too lost in statistics and not notice what’s really happening.

    Do you really care that Lee may have been unlucky in the NLDS? Does that really make you feel any better about the loss?

    It doesn’t matter if Lee was unlucky. It doesn’t matter if 80% of the time, the ball bounces his way, and the Phillies win. What matters is that he didn’t hold the lead, and the Phillies lost the game and series.

    I’ll agree that Lee has pitched well enough to win some games this season. But it is also worth nothing that in his past two starts, he’s had leads, and given them right back.

    Sunday’s game was as close to a must-win game as you can get in June. The Phillies gave their ace pitcher a 3-run lead, and he blew the lead.

    Lee and Hamels are about the only strength this team has going for it right now. The team needs them to carry them to victory, and not get dragged down by the rest.

  2. BradInDC

    June 12, 2012 08:28 AM

    TRADE CLIFF LEE BECAUSE OF THAT TIME HE DIDN’T HOLD A ONE RUN LEAD AND GET SOMEBODY WHO LOSES NEVER!

  3. Grady

    June 12, 2012 08:31 AM

    Bleacher Report spewing hot garbage? Color me surprised.

  4. Gregg

    June 12, 2012 08:40 AM

    “I went through each hit individually after that game and concluded that Lee was truly at fault for four of the 12 hits he allowed.” – and this is the second dumbest thing I’ll read all year. this is the problem with the “I don’t watch the games” crowd, they ignore the actual game and use stats to justify their own biases.

  5. Chip Buck

    June 12, 2012 08:46 AM

    I’m sorry, but the article wasn’t clear. Cliff is the third highest paid pitcher in baseball? Did I get that right?

    I have to agree with Grady. B/R spewing trash is the least surprising thing I’ve heard today. Still, nothing brings me more joy than watching someone pick an article apart, piece by piece. Nicely done.

  6. Ken Bland

    June 12, 2012 08:55 AM

    It’s no excuse, and I would easily assume without checking that Cliff’s done this with better results anyway, but he was coming off a maximum type effort in the 122 pitch game, so on a warm afternoon game the next time out, a little slack would be fair. You do hate seeing a pitcher of his stature compromise leads, but examinining the situation beyond tunnelvision seems fair. And wise.

  7. Scott G

    June 12, 2012 09:59 AM

    Maybe it’s the gifs and the fact that I was at the game, but the only one of those hits you show that I’d consider dinky or lucky was the second Jay hit. Although, even that hit looked like he altered his swing to hit the ball where the defense wasn’t, which is pretty impressive against Lee.

    Theriot’s hit came on a pitch that was out of the strike zone, and he managed to hit it decently hard the opposite way.

    Jay’s first hit seems to be pretty hard hit ball in the hole between 1st and 2nd.

    But I agree, people are talking ridiculously when it comes to Lee.

  8. MG

    June 12, 2012 09:08 AM

    Mentally tuned out after the words ‘Bleacher Report’

    Phils have been horrendous at scoring runs for Lee’s starts and he has given up a few untimely HRs. My post on the topic in 25 words.

  9. JC

    June 12, 2012 09:18 AM

    “Here’s where people can get too lost in statistics and not notice what’s really happening.”

    The statistics tell me that Lee’s K/9 and BB/9 are similar to last year and his K% is the highest it’s been in his career (for as much as this says a few months into the season). What’s really happening is he is pitching pretty darn well.

  10. LTG

    June 12, 2012 10:04 AM

    Gregg,

    BB watched the game and concluded that Lee’s pitches were good pitches that created weak contact yet turned into hits. That is watching the game more closely than screaming that Lee is at fault because the result was bad.

    But perhaps watching the game closely is as much a sin as using newfangled (read: >30 years old) statistical analysis. I can’t keep up with how we’re supposed to think about the game on the doctrinal view.

  11. LTG

    June 12, 2012 10:10 AM

    Scott G, I disagree. The Theriot hit gets gobbled up by a better 1B. It was hit pretty hard but right next to Howard. The rest are balls off the end of the bat or on the hands. Furcal almost falls over after he makes contact. And both of Jay’s balls are pretty softly hit and died in the outfield grass. And on the first one Jay was fooled and had to dive after the pitch just to make contact.

    I don’t know whether to call it bad luck for Lee or good hitting dispositions for the Cardinals, but I don’t think those hits can be attributed to pitching poorly. The ball has to go in play sometimes.

  12. Andrew R

    June 12, 2012 10:46 AM

    Bleacher Report… This is the same site that suggested Kyle Kendrick be the set-up man in Madson’s abscence with the next step being closer. That was the last time I looked at that site.

  13. Phylan

    June 12, 2012 10:47 AM

    It depends on how you want to characterize “luck.”

    Grounders are not good contact, but they still go for hits about 22% of the time. If Cliff Lee is getting his usual pile of strikeouts and getting groundballs at a league average or better rate, I’d say he’s doing his job just fine.

    I don’t know, though, that I’d say any one grounder or the other is “unlucky” — it may just be part of the 22%. If over a larger sample there are significantly more than 22% of his grounders going for hits, that’s when I’d break out the “luck” talk. To each their own though.

    What I certainly will not do is get mad at Cliff for blowing any particular lead if he’s reliably giving us 200 or so innings of elite run prevention. That’s his job, and right now he’s doing it just fine.

  14. KH

    June 12, 2012 11:13 AM

    Never ever read bleacher report. It’s a disgrace that news outfits pay for that dreck to round out there websites. Half of them are titled ten reasons why something should happen or five reasons why so and so is great or 15 reasons why something needs to happen. Thats the laziest kind of writing.

  15. LTG

    June 12, 2012 11:40 AM

    “Grounders are not good contact” Phylan, I disagree with this as a universal and maybe even as a generalization. Not all grounders are equal. Some are hit harder than others and are the result of a better hitting process or a worse pitching process. Certainly line drives are preferable, but not every pitch can be hit for a line drive. Moreover and crucially, not every pitch that can be hit for a hard groundball can be hit for a line drive. So, it seems to me that some grounders are good contact and a batter can have a skill or disposition for hitting good contact grounders. And, hey, if you don’t have much power, grounders are better than flyballs.

    These are, of course, surmises that need testing. But they suggest that fine-grained analysis of what happened in a game should distinguish the kinds of ground balls a pitcher induces or has inflicted upon him.

  16. Phylan

    June 12, 2012 12:25 PM

    Unfortunately none of us will probably ever be able to get our hands on hit f/x data over a substantial period of time

  17. LTG

    June 12, 2012 12:38 PM

    why not?

  18. Dan K.

    June 12, 2012 01:10 PM

    Please Bill, tell us how you really feel about Bleacher Report.

    Thanks for the chuckle regarding an otherwise mind-numbing topic (Bleacher Report/Lee being winless).

  19. Scott G

    June 12, 2012 02:35 PM

    LTG,

    I wasn’t trying to say Lee wasn’t pitching well. I think I was more trying to compliment the hitters for their approach regardless of how well they hit the ball. To me, some of those hits seemed like obvious attempts to place the ball, which were successful in these cases.

  20. Ryan

    June 12, 2012 02:48 PM

    Was it really necessary to tear apart Bleacher Report? Doesn’t everyone know that they’re a bunch of turds? I came to that conclusion after one article.

  21. Daniel

    June 12, 2012 02:51 PM

    Great article. Thanks.

  22. Frank Reynolds

    June 12, 2012 03:51 PM

    Sorry I stopped reading when I read bleacher report. I always thought the bleacher report was written by fans perhaps while they are watching a game in the stands. I did not realize that people actually read the bleacher report for anything other than a laugh. No offense to anyone here.

  23. NickFromGermantown

    June 12, 2012 05:29 PM

    That article is so over-the-top that it must be satire, right?

    Right?

  24. LTG

    June 12, 2012 05:56 PM

    Scott G,

    I see. You are right that in that game and even the whole series the Cardinals seemed to have one great PA after another. Lots of foul balls. Lots of balls in play. Really frustrating for Phils fans.

  25. Scott G

    June 12, 2012 08:01 PM

    why can’t every stadium provide this camera angle? It let’s me see just how terrible the umpires are.

  26. Ryne Duren

    June 12, 2012 11:16 PM

    i wish we had 2 more cliff lees instead of KK of or joey bag a burgers. they both bring the word suck to the next level! right smack even with chad effin qualls!

  27. Ryne Duren

    June 12, 2012 11:17 PM

    by the way good article! the bleacher report actually sucks right up there with the three losers in my previous comment

  28. KB

    June 13, 2012 08:42 AM

    Glad to see somebody take down one of the ridiculous Cliff Lee articles out there. Now, if somebody could write one of theses for every other Bleacher Report article ever . . .

  29. Dave

    June 13, 2012 09:54 AM

    Have you read the author’s response to any and all criticism in the comments? He’s the ultimate troll. Awful.

  30. Tim

    June 13, 2012 04:09 PM

    That article is bad, but does ESPN having Skip Bayless make the entirety of ESPN terrible? There are some weaker articles on Bleacher Report sometimes, but it’s not fair to crap all over the whole site.

    How often do you really see an article like this? Once a year these days?

    This is just *one* writer being shortsighted with *one* article. The guy is not a Featured Columnist or anything, so it’s like picking one lame guest blog post from an SB Nation blog and saying all of those blogs are terrible. Plenty of them are good. I’ve written for both, and I hate when people get carried away like this.

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