Cliff Lee’s Great September

If not for some poor outfield defense yesterday afternoon against the Mets, Cliff Lee would have walked away for the fourth time in four attempts thus far in September. Instead, he was saddled with a bad luck loss and the Phillies were swept at the hands of their division rivals.

It has come with little fanfare, but Lee’s September has been incredible. Take a look:

Date Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP Pit GSc
Sep 6 ATL W,2-1 8.0 2 1 1 0 10 1 1 103 84
Sep 11 SDP W,4-2 8.0 5 2 2 1 9 2 0 110 72
Sep 16 MIA W,12-2 8.0 8 2 2 0 14 0 0 113 72
Sep 22 NYM L,3-4 7.0 8 3 2 0 8 0 0 88 59
214.2 190 76 70 32 209 21 4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/23/2013.

In September, Lee has struck out 35 percent of batters and he has walked just one — less than one percent of batters faced! It’s a 41-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The month-long effort might actually result in some fourth- or fifth-place NL Cy Young award votes for Lee, who is showing no signs of aging at 34 years old.

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24 comments

  1. Pencilfish

    September 23, 2013 10:15 AM

    Bill,

    The last line of your table is the total for the year, not the month of September.

    Another 200+ innings and 200+ SO, and Lee’s 32 BB total in 30 GS(!) is incredible. Would a couple more years like that bring him into a discussion for a HoF ballot many years from now?

  2. jerome

    September 23, 2013 10:26 AM

    A couple more seasons SHOULD put Lee in that discussion, but remember Kevin Brown – he only made 1 ballot despite his dominance as a pitcher. 4 more years at something close to this level could place him close to Shilling, where he will be in serious discussion but fall short (at least for a while). Problem is that there are too many old-school voters who think that a pitcher needs at least 250 (or 300) wins to make the hall. Lee will be lucky to retire with 200! If he doesn’t get to 200, he won’t stand a chance, despite being one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last 6 seasons (and likely more).

  3. adam_s

    September 23, 2013 12:05 PM

    @jerome.. by the time Lee is able to be voted on for HOF, there won’t b as many old school voters and they’ll actually use evidence based statistics. at least, I’m hoping thats the case.

  4. Chris S.

    September 23, 2013 01:16 PM

    The rotation has a great base for next year with Lee and Hamels. Now we just need to keep losing to get that protected pick so we can go sign whoever we want.

  5. Larry

    September 23, 2013 02:21 PM

    @Jerome

    Yes Kevin Brown pitching half of his career in the AL ruined his HOF chances. He didn’t come to the NL til age 31, check out the huge difference of leagues:

    AL 1656.1 innings pitched

    ERA- 3.93
    ERA+ 107
    Whip- 1.356

    NL 1600 innings pitched

    ERA- 2.60
    ERA+ 157
    WHIP- 1.084

    I see Cliff Lee having a similar problem, even though he won a CY Young in the AL. His ERA, ERA+, and WHIP have huge difference like Kevin Brown. Cliff would need 3-5 more monster years in the NL. Another Cy Young award would certainly help his chances.

  6. EricL

    September 23, 2013 02:21 PM

    The problem with Lee’s HoF shot is that he didn’t turn into Cliff Lee until his age 29 season or so. In order to overcome that I would think he’d need something like a Koufaxesque peak or in the alternative he’d have to sustain his current level of dominance well into his late 30s.

  7. Smitty

    September 23, 2013 06:11 PM

    Chris S. – I am with you all the way ! Do not like Lee losing but the pick is there…..tied for 9th / 10th now…. Go San Diego + San Fran and I hope the Mets run the table. Maybe the 8th pick ?

  8. hk

    September 24, 2013 08:41 AM

    Larry,

    Regarding Kevin Brown, the huge disparity in his ERA+’s show that there is most likely something (some things?) else at play there other than just the league switch. I don’t know whether it is park factors, defense, pitching coaches, age / maturity / health, learning a new pitch or some combination of those, but it’s more than just the league switch since ERA+ shows ERA relative to league average.

  9. Larry

    September 24, 2013 11:16 AM

    @HK,

    I’ve given many examples before. AJ Burnett is also a good example. He’s been back and forth to each league. 4.39 vs 3.65. He’s more battle tested now and pitching a lot better at age 36 in the NL. His stats this year are very similar to his last year as a Marlin. Is this another coincidence?

  10. hk

    September 24, 2013 12:03 PM

    Larry,

    When you use ERA+, you get a comparison to league avereage, which includes the facts that the AL has been the better league for quite some time and that DH’s bat in the AL. Those would not explain the difference between Brown having a 153 ERA+ in one league and a 103 ERA+ in the other.

    By the way, there are also examples of pitchers who have better ERA+’s in the AL than in the NL. This is not to say that those same pitchers had better ERA’s in the AL than in the NL due to the fact that the average AL ERA has been around 0.16 > the average NL ERA over the past 10 seasons.

  11. Larry

    September 24, 2013 12:33 PM

    HK,

    Yes I know why I used it. I was showing that he was just an average pitcher in the AL and a good pitcher in the NL. To further clarify: Meaning around average among his peers in the AL, but good in the NL compared to other NL pitchers. There is a correlation.

  12. hk

    September 24, 2013 01:23 PM

    Larry,

    I suspect that the Kevin Brown’s of the world are the anomoly as are the likes of Pedro Martinez, Barry Zito, Johan Santana, Jamie Moyer, Hiroki Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Dan Haren and Bronson Arroyo, who have better ERA+’s in the AL than in the NL. I would think that most pitchers who have pitched in both leagues have ERA+’s in the AL that are very close to their ERA+’s in the NL unless there are extenuating circumstances like park effects, defense, age and injury.

  13. hk

    September 24, 2013 01:29 PM

    Add Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, David, Cone, Esteban Loaiza, Derek Lowe and Woody Williams to the list.

  14. Larry

    September 24, 2013 04:07 PM

    HK,

    The guys you named are exceptions. For every 10-15 guys you name, there are 50 other pitchers I could name that would favor my point. When you have to reach for an example like Jamie Moyer, that means there’s not a lot to reach for. He was a National league pitcher for 7 starts before the age of 43. I think most pitchers would have better success from ages 23-42 years old than 43-49 years old. Wouldn’t you agree?

  15. hk

    September 24, 2013 04:29 PM

    Larry,

    Name 50. And, when you do, I’ll name 50 more (like Freddy Garcia and James Baldwin). Or, randomly pick a few teams and look at all of the pitchers on those teams who pitched at least a few years in both leagues. I’ll bet you’ll find that the majority of the pitchers have ERA+’s that are very similar in both leagues and that there’s a pretty equal split of the others with maybe slightly more having significantly better ERA+’s in the NL than in the AL.

    Your point about Jamie Moyer, who by the way began his career on the Cubs in the NL, is the same one that I made about Kevin Brown, namely that there are extenuating circumstances other than just the talent and rules (DH vs. P’s batting) differences between the leagues. In Moyer’s case, it was that he pitched in the AL in the prime of his career. In Brown’s case, it was probably something else.

  16. Larry

    September 24, 2013 07:00 PM

    HK,

    To be fair and open minded to your argument I looked at the the best ERA pitchers every year. Even if you go back over 30 years to 1980, at a tedious quick glance at their pages, there is no doubt about it, that almost every single ERA leader since 1980 that pitched in both Leagues had a better ERA+ in the NL. Obviously there were guys who won multiple times, so I only counted them 1 time. Check it out yourself, it’s so overwhelming.

    www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/earned_run_avg_leagues.shtml

  17. hk

    September 24, 2013 08:42 PM

    Larry,

    I’m not sure why you would go all the way back to 1980, but since you did….

    1. How many different pitchers are on that list? I get 46, but I counted quickly.

    2. How many of the 46 pitched a large enough sample in both leagues to be considered? I haven’t bothered to count, but I’d assume it’s <20. I won't count the likes of Steve Ontiveros or Kevin Appier, both of whom have better ERA+'s in the AL, because they did not pitch a lot of innings in the NL.

    3. How many of the pitchers who pitched a large enough sample in both leagues produced ERA+'s that were more than 2% different when comparing one league to the other? Again, I haven't counted, but I noticed Greinke's, Sutcliffe's and Danny Darwin's ERA+'s from both leagues are similar and there's probably a few others. That leaves <15 pitchers.

    Of the probably <15 pitchers who fit the criteria, at a minimum the following 5 had better ERA+'s in the AL:

    1. Nolan Ryan
    2. Brett Saberhagen
    3. Johan Santana
    4. Pedro Martinez
    5. Rick Honeycutt

    Am I right that there are < 10 from that list that fit the criteria and had better ERA+'s in the NL?

  18. Larry

    September 24, 2013 10:33 PM

    @HK,

    I appreciate you trying to manipulate the data…..But do you really want to go over each player on that list? Do you really want a breakdown of all the innings AL vs NL? We both know what the data will say. It’s not even close Howard. Before you come back with a response, don’t look at the data too quickly. Go over it carefully.

    I know you are a smart guy, a smart baseball fan. If you go over the data more carefully and do research, you will find the results surprising to you. There are plenty of articles to research about this subject. Good in the NL most times changes in the AL. ERA+ in NL mostly decreases in the AL. Maybe it’s difficult because of the DH, or maybe it’s difficult because of the power hitters. I have presented articles in other threads that would support this.

    “Of the probably <15 pitchers who fit the criteria, at a minimum the following 5 had better ERA+'s in the AL:"

    Even if you think this, you are admitting at least a better ratio that would prove my point, but it's actually much larger.

    I really looked over your argument objectively without any bias. Maybe this debate stems from our Cliff Lee vs Hamels debate earlier in the year. You know I'm a huge Lee fan, but even I know his ERA and ERA+ would have been not as good if he was traded to the Redsox at the trade deadline.

  19. hk

    September 25, 2013 06:44 AM

    Larry,

    You have totally misrepresented my stance. Let’s start with the fact that I am fully aware that the AL is better than the NL and that it has more to do with the talent in the two leagues than it does the rules (having the DH alone does not make the AL better). I don’t need any group-think articles by a bunch of bloggers to tell me this. All I have to do is look at the inter-league records to see that the AL is the better league. Therefore, I get that a pitcher with a 125 ERA+ in the NL is not necessarily better than a pitcher with a 115 ERA+ in the AL.

    Now that we have that out of the way, let’s go back to my initial contention, which is that Kevin Brown’s 157 ERA+ in the NL and 107 ERA+ in the AL is most likely attributable to something more than just the AL being the better league. It’s funny that, when I pointed out that Jamie Moyer had a better ERA+ in the AL, you were quick to point out Moyer’s age when he pitched in the respective leagues. My point is, with Brown, you should look for a reason why the disparity is so great. When I have time, I’ll calculate Brown’s FIP- in the AL and NL. I would guess that the disparity won’t be as great as the disparity between his AL and NL ERA+.

    By the way, this debate has nothing to do with our Lee vs. Hamels debate. Again, in that debate, I recognize that Lee pitched in the AL and deserves some “extra credit” for doing so. However, (again) I don’t believe that was my point in debating Lee vs. Hamels. My point in that debate had everything to do with the two pitchers’ respective ages and my expectation that Hamels’s future (as measured by the rest of Lee’s contract) might very well be equal to, or better than, Lee’s.

  20. Larry

    September 25, 2013 12:31 PM

    HK,

    If you look closely at Kevin Brown’s career. There were 2 huge changes that happened after 2 league switches. In 1995 with the Orioles, he posted a 3.60 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, ERA+ was 133.

    Then he jumped to the NL in 1996 and posted a 1.89 ERA, 0.944 WHIP, and a 215 ERA+

    His last year in the NL was 2003. he was 38 years old and pitching amazing especially when you consider his age. As a Dodger, he posted a 2.39 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, and 169 ERA+

    The next year he goes to the juiced up AL East representing the Yankees posting a 4.09 ERA, 1.265 WHIP, and 110 ERA+….The next year it got a lot worse and then retired.

    If that evidence isn’t enough for you then just look at his career ERA in the AL 3.93 vs 2.60 in the NL. Yes HK, it was simply the league change.

    The Blue jays figured they were going to be contenders this year by bringing in the NL CY Young winner (Dickey) and Josh Johnson who dominated the NL East for many years. Those 2 guys learned that the AL East is much different from the NL East. Just because you are a top 10 or 15 pitcher in the NL, it doesn’t mean you will be a top 10-15 pitcher in the AL, hence the big change in ERA+….Pedro Martinez was absolutely awesome and should get even more credit than he already has.

  21. hk

    September 25, 2013 01:09 PM

    Larry,

    There is no point in continuing if you want to ignore the following:

    1. Dodger Stadium was one of the lowest run scoring environments in MLB while Brown pitched there.

    2. Brown had a .281 BABIP in the NL and a .299 BABIP in the AL. It is quite possible that Brown pitched in front of better defenses in the NL.

    Similarly, if you are going to credit Josh Johnson’s drop-off this year entirely to the league switch without recognizing the fact that he was hurt and only pitched 81 1/3 innings, there’s no point in continuing.

  22. Larry

    September 25, 2013 02:15 PM

    ” let’s go back to my initial contention, which is that Kevin Brown’s 157 ERA+ in the NL and 107 ERA+ in the AL is most likely attributable to something more than just the AL being the better league.”

    “1. Dodger Stadium was one of the lowest run scoring environments in MLB while Brown pitched there.”

    “From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Adjusted ERA+, often simply abbreviated to ERA+ or ERA plus, is a pitching statistic in baseball. It adjusts a pitcher’s earned run average (ERA) according to the pitcher’s ballpark (in case the ballpark favors batters or pitchers) and the ERA of the pitcher’s league.”

    HK, Dodger stadium is factored into ERA+….Also what about Sun Life Stadium when he played for the Marlins? You didn’t mention that?

    “2. Brown had a .281 BABIP in the NL and a .299 BABIP in the AL. It is quite possible that Brown pitched in front of better defenses in the NL.”

    HK, Do you think it’s possible that DHs have a much higher BABIP than NL pitchers offensively? Don’t you think that would play a part in the 19 point BABIP difference?…….Which BTW isn’t a huge difference when considering AL has better hitters and they use a DH, which you already admitted:

    ” Let’s start with the fact that I am fully aware that the AL is better than the NL and that it has more to do with the talent in the two leagues than it does the rules (having the DH alone does not make the AL better).”

    I think people would expect the higher BABIP in the AL. Obviously there are exceptions.

    “Similarly, if you are going to credit Josh Johnson’s drop-off this year entirely to the league switch without recognizing the fact that he was hurt and only pitched 81 1/3 innings, there’s no point in continuing.”

    Yeah he is probably better than his 6.20 ERA, I’ll take injuries into consideration and assume his ERA would be under 5.0 but over 4.0. That still supports a big change by switching leagues. So half league change and half injuries is fair by me.

  23. hk

    September 25, 2013 02:40 PM

    Larry,

    I did not realize that ERA+ was adjusted for ballpark. Thanks for the information. It takes ballpark factors out of the equation.

    As far as BABIP’s are concerned, I have not looked up the BABIP’s in each league during every year of Brown’s career. What I do know is that in each of the past 3 full seasons – according to Baseball Reference – the BABIP in the NL has been higher than the BABIP in the AL. I also checked 2002 through 2005 and during that period, the BABIP’s in the NL and the AL were almost exactly the same. This refutes the DH leads to higher BABIP’s theory and leads us to revisit the question of whether Brown benefitted by playing in front of better defenses in the NL.

    So far, there’s nothing that you’ve shared that leads me to believe that the disparity between Brown’s AL ERA+ and his NL ERA+ is solely caused by the difference in the leagues.

  24. Larry

    September 25, 2013 04:24 PM

    HK,

    “What I do know is that in each of the past 3 full seasons – according to Baseball Reference – the BABIP in the NL has been higher than the BABIP in the AL. I also checked 2002 through 2005 and during that period, the BABIP’s in the NL and the AL were almost exactly the same. This refutes the DH leads to higher BABIP’s theory and leads us to revisit the question of whether Brown benefitted by playing in front of better defenses in the NL.”

    When men are on base, pitcher’s will use a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner. If done successfully it wouldn’t affect their average negatively.

    An AL team usually hires a a DH who has power, but they usually are bad at defense. When a DH hits a HR it is not counted in BABIP. This is probably a big reason why the average AL team has scored more than 20 runs than an average NL team. Also the AL has more power hitters. So yeah, maybe the BABIPS are closer than I thought, but it doesn’t prove to be the answer to the humongous increase in ERA and ERA+ per league.

    Anyway his BABIP difference of just 19 points per League is too small to be the biggest factor. His transition from the Dodgers to the Yankees actually goes the other way.

    The huge difference in ERA+ from 2003 to 2004 is not from BABIP. He actually had a a .295 BABIP in 2003 as a Dodger and a .284 BABIP the following year as a Yankee. That doesn’t prove your theory of a 59 point difference of the transition. It actually disputes your theory.

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