Short Nerd Chief

Cliff Lee’s best start of 2008 (so far): faster, fastball!

Posted by Fred on April 25, 2008

I continue to be amazed by Cliff Lee’s turnaround in 2008.  He looks nothing like the pitcher who was demoted to the minors in 2007, and sits atop the majors with a 0.28 ERA.  Last night was his best start to date, as he pitched a complete game, 3 hit shutout with 9 Ks and no walks.  His personal scoreless streak now sits at 22 innings, as he hasn’t given up a run since allowing a triple and an infield single to lead off the fourth inning on April 13 against the As.  Since allowing that run, he’s given up only 5 hits, with no walks and 21 strikeouts.  Compare his first 4 starts this year to his first 4 last year (and Sabathia’s first 4 starts from his Cy Young season, for good measure):

  W-L CG ShO IP H ER BB SO HR ERA OPS K/BB
Lee – 2008 4-0 1 1 31.2 11 1 2 29 0 0.28 .264 14.5
Lee – 2007 2-0 1 0 26.0 25 12 8 12 2 4.15 .736 1.5
Sabathia 3-0 0 0 28.0 30 7 7 27 3 2.25 .741 3.9

Lee is hitting the strike zone with regularity, as he has thrown 68% strikes (one reason he’s only walked 2 batters in almost 32 innings).  What was interesting about last night’s win was that he used a different mix of pitches than he had been this year, relying largely on a low-90s fastball (Pitch f/x says 3 of last night’s pitches were cutters, which I tend to doubt):

  Fastball Curve Slider Change
Previous Starts 73.7% 8.8% 2.9% 14.6%
4/24/2008 85.0% 5.0% 1.7% 5.8%

It’s not as if Lee was unable to locate his other pitches – all but one of his changeups was a strike, and one of the 9 strikeouts came on a slider.  As he noted after the game, the Royals were swinging through the high heat, so he stuck with the fastball, mixing in off-speed pitches as necessary to keep them honest.  And the results spoke for themselves:

  Total Balls Strikes In play, out In play, no out
Fastball 102 29 60 11 2
Curve 6 3 0 3 0
Slider 2 1 1 0 0
Change 7 2 1 3 1
Cutter 3 0 3 0 0
Total 120 35 65 17 3

Cliff’s location was excellent all night, as the pitch f/x data indicates:

Lee_location_042408

Focus on just the fastballs, and you can see why he relied on them so much:

Lee_location_fastball_042408

As we’ve seen all season, Cliff Lee is just a different pitcher.  His velocity is up, as his fastball (which averaged 90.2 MPH last year) averaged 90.9 MPH last night.  His location is better – last night he threw 72% strikes.  And his movement is better – here’s the pitch f/x chart from last night:

lee_movement_042408

The one potential caveat is that Lee’s opponents aren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball.  Oakland is hitting .260 (6th in the AL) with a .715 OPS.  Minnesota is hitting .256 (10th in the AL) with a .653 OPS.  Kansas City is hitting .256 (tied for 10th with the Twins) with a .659 OPS.  The three teams rank 5th, 13th and 14th among the 14 AL teams in runs scored. Lee’s next start should come against Seattle, which currently ranks 12th in hitting and 7th in runs, as he’ll miss the Yankees (3rd in hitting and 8th in runs in 2008) this weekend.  Nevertheless, the data looks promising so far, which is good, as Fausto Carmona doesn’t yet have the command he did in 2007 (a pitch f/x analysis for Fausto will come later).

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