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Posts Tagged ‘Cliff Lee’

Tribe-Yanks Wrap II: Lee to the Rescue, Again

Posted by Fred on May 9, 2008

With some late-inning heroics from David Dellucci and another stellar start from the resurgent Cliff Lee, the Tribe managed to take two of three in their last visit to the current Yankee Stadium, in the process securing a season series victory.  They were 4-3 against New York after going 0-6 in the regular season in 2007.  Eric Wedge attempted to wake up the club’s dormant bats – Ben Francisco got three starts in place of the designated-for-assignment Jason Michaels, while Victor Martinez sat out two games with a stiff neck. Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner each got some time on the bench, partly because they’re all mired in slumps and partly to allow Victor to DH in the one game he did play.  Unfortunately, the roster shakeup didn’t really wake up the bats (putting aside Dellucci’s three-run pinch hit HR off Joba Chamberlain on Tuesday night).  For the series, the Indians hit just .202, with almost as many strikeouts (18) as hits (19).

The Good

  1. Cliff Lee.  This is becoming a broken record, but Lee was fantastic again, as he out-pitched previously unbeated Chien-Ming Wang in picking up his sixth consecutive win to start the season.  He threw seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits while striking out 7 and walking none. 74% of his pitches were strikes, and 76% of his fastballs were strikes.  Lee hasn’t walked a batter since the second inning against Minnesota on April 18, a stretch of 101 batters faced without a walk.  His ERA stands at 0.81, and he has an absurd strikeout-to-walk ratio of 39-2.
  2. Ben Francisco and Casey Blake.  Hitting heroes were hard to come by in this series.  Dellucci has the big HR in the first game, but for the series, Blake and Francisco were the most consistent.  Francisco had 4 hits in 11 AB in his first consistent playing time in 2008.  Blake had 2 hits in 6 AB, and drove in three more runs.  Casey is hitting only .210, but his 22 RBI lead the team and 15 runs scored is third.

The Bad

  1. Paul Byrd. After a stretch of several pretty good starts, Byrd got hit pretty hard yesterday afternoon, giving up 5 runs in 6⅓ innings. That’s bad enough, but Byrd continues to have trouble keeping the ball in the park, giving up three more HR.  He’s now given up 10 home runs, far more than anyone else on the team (C.C. Sabathia is second in that dubious category with 6).
  2. The offense.  With a couple of notable exceptions, the lineup just couldn’t hit, continuing a trend started in the KC series.  Overall, the Indians managed just 19 hits in 94 AB.  Asdrubal Cabrera and Victor Martinez were hitless in their single appearances.  Jamey Carroll was 1-for 7, Kelly Shoppach 1-for-10 in relief of Martinez and Ryan Garko 1-for-8.

The Ugly

  1. Fausto Carmona.  Last year’s feel good story, 19-game winner Carmona, continues to be the antithesis of this year’s feel good story Lee.  Whereas Lee isn’t walking anybody, Carmona can’t find the plate, walking 5 more in 5 innings.  Carmona managed to get a no-decision thanks to pitching out of jams and Dellucci’s 8th inning HR.  In 7 starts, Carmona has walked 31 batters and struck out only 15.  Between them, Carmona and Sabathia have nearly half of the team’s 103 walks.

Putting Lee’s Fast Start In Context

Cliff Lee continues to amaze, and is far beyond the form that saw him win 18 games in 2005.  Consider these 5 pitchers and their statistics after 6 starts:

Player A 6 0 0.81 0.163 7.86 0.40 19.5
Player B 6 0 1.98 0.192 7.46 3.07 2.4
Player C 3 1 1.31 0.182 5.89 1.96 3.0
Player D 5 1 2.06 0.211 12.57 2.06 6.1
Player E 5 0 1.99 0.183 10.87 2.17 5.0

Player A is, needless to say, Cliff Lee.  Player B is Brandon Webb in his first six starts of 2008, generally considered the best pitcher in the NL.  Players C-E are, respectively, Bob Gibson in 1968, Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Roger Clemens in 1986.  All three won the Cy Young in those seasons, and Gibson and Clemens were the MVP (Martinez was 2nd in 1999 to Ivan Rodriguez).  Lee is, so far at least, having among the best starts ever.

To put it in more context, since 1956 there have been only 13 other pitchers to win at least their first six starts and post a sub-1.00 ERA during the streak, led by Juan Marichal, who won his first 10 starts in 1966 with a 0.79 ERA.  Of those 13, 4 won the Cy Young Award and 7 received votes for MVP.  Bob Turley started 7-0 with a 0.86 ERA in 1958, winning the Cy Young and coming in second in MVP voting to Boston’s Jackie Jensen, while Fernando Valenzuela posted a 9-0 record with a 0.50 ERA in 1981, winning the NL Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and placing 5th in MVP voting.

Lee is, therefore, in select company, and time will tell if he is more like Juan Marichal or Bill Krueger, who started 6-0 for the Twins in 1992 only to be traded to the Expos, where he pitched in 7 of his final 9 games from the bullpen, finishing 10-8 with a 4.53 ERA.

Next Up: four games at Progressive Field against the Blue Jays.  C.C. Sabathia (1-5, 7.51 ERA) takes the mound in the opener against Roy Halladay (3-4, 3.00).  Sabathia is coming off his fourth quality start in a row after a slow start in early April, although he was not as dominant in the loss to the Royals as in the previous three.  Saturday pits Aaron Laffey (0-2, 2.84) against Dustin McGowan (2-2, 2.95).  Laffey was good in his last start against the Royals, allowing no earned runs on four hits over seven innings, but McGowan has been even better, posting a 0.61 ERA over his last two starts (unfortunately for him, the Jays have scored only 16 runs in his 7 starts).  Sunday pits Fausto Carmona (3-1, 2.95) against A.J. Burnett (3-3, 5.19).  Carmona looks to find the strike zone, which has been elusive this year, while Burnett looks for success against a Cleveland team that has hit him hard (1-3, 8.46 ERA in four career starts).  Monday’s finale pits Cliff Lee (6-0, 0.81) against Shaun Marcum (4-2, 2.59).  The Tribe pitchers will have to be strong, as the Jays are second in the AL in team ERA and first in strikeouts.


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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):

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:


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


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:


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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A tale of two pitchers: Sabathia and Lee

Posted by Fred on April 22, 2008

Call it the circle of blogging – first Jason Kottke posts an ode to the knuckleball.  Then I pointed him toward the fascinating pitchf/x charts Josh Kalk has compiled from the Sportvision/MLB data, and Jason posted that.  Then I ended up finding a bunch more pitchf/x resources.  MLB posts the raw data in a bunch of XML files that you can parse via Excel (crudely) or SQL (more sophisticated).  I took a look at Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia to see if there are any trends that may explain why C.C. is winless with a 13.50 ERA and Cliff is undefeated with a 0.40 ERA, when by all accounts those results should be reversed.

Here is some pitch location data for their last respective starts, courtesy of Dan Brooks (Jnai from the Sons of Sam Horn board) and his Totally Unofficial PitchFX Graph Tool.  For C.C., it’s the 11-2 thrashing by the Tigers, in which he got lit up for 9 runs again.  For Cliff, it’s a dominant 4-0 win over the Twins, in which he gave up no runs and struck out 8 in 8 innings:


C.C. is on the left and Lee on the right.  The sense we all have that Sabathia can’t find the plate would appear to be true.  Further, he is invariably missing belt-high and up on both sides of the plate.  Lee’s pitches are largely in the strike zone, and when he misses he is missing inside to righties and low.  Some of this is undoubtedly explained by Sabathia’s reticence to throw his slider – his percentage of sliders has dropped from 22% in 2007 to 12% this year – and reliance on his changeup.

When C.C. has thrown his slider, it has significantly less break than it did last year.  Here is the horizontal and vertical break data for C.C. in 2007, from Josh Kalk’s data:


Here is the same data for 2008 to date:


Some of this can be explained by the smaller sample size, but the general trend seems clear.  Sabathia’s pitches don’t have the range of movement they had last year – his slider is breaking horizontally out of the zone, but it’s staying essentially flat vertically.  A slider that doesn’t slide is just asking to be turned into a screaming line drive.  Lee’s pitches, on the other hand, are anything but flat.  He doesn’t throw very many sliders (6 so far), but his curve, fastball and change are all breaking vertically and horizontally (as we examined yesterday), making him more effective even though his fastball is 5 MPH slower:


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Tribe-Twins Wrap: Cliff Lee Edition

Posted by Fred on April 21, 2008

Maybe the apparent offensive improvement in last week’s thrashing of the Tigers was an illusion.  maybe Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are just that good.  In any event, the Tribe offense, which has been largely dormant since the 10-8 opening day win over Chicago, has gone into hibernation again.  In three games at the Metrodome, the Indians lineup hit just .202, managing just 5 extra base hits and 5 runs in 28 innings.  The end result was 2 losses in 3 games, the sole victory being Cliff Lee’s 4-0 gem on Friday night.  Byrd and Westbrook each gave the team a chance to win, yielding a total of 4 runs over their 2 starts, but the offense scored only one run (in yesterday’s 2-1, 10 inning defeat).

The Good

  1. Cliff Lee.  A year after being demoted to Buffalo with an ERA over 6, Cliff Lee is the bright spot in the rotation and one of the stories of the year.  Following a dominant 4-0 win against the Twins, Lee is now 3-0 with a microscopic 0.40 ERA.  He’s yielded 1 ER in 22 IP, allowing only 8 hits and 2 walks while striking out 20.  Against the Twins, he allowed 2 hits and a walk in 8 innings, wiping out 2 of the baserunners on double plays.  He also struck out 8.  More on Lee later.
  2. Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd.  While less dominant than Lee, both Byrd and Westbrook gave the team a chance to win.  On Saturday, Jake allowed 3 runs on 8 hits in 7 innings, with the big blow coming on a 2-run Justin Morneau HR with two outs in the first inning.  Westbrook allowed another run in the second, and then shut the Twins down over the next 5 innings.  Unfortunately, the offense did not manage to score off Nick Blackburn, failing to capitalize on three doubles among 8 hits overall.  Paul Byrd has his second good start in a row on Sunday, allowing a run on 6 hits over 7 innings.  Since walking 4 over 7 IP in his first two starts, Byrd hasn’t walked a batter over 13 IP in his last two starts.  Unfortunately, his teammates again failed to score, as Byrd took a no-decision for the second start in a row (following a 5-3 loss to Boston in which Byrd also game up only one run).
  3. Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Casey Blake.  It’s hard to find much of an offensive bright spot in this series, but Casey Blake was 3-for-10 with a HR and 3 RBI, accounting for almost all of the offense in Friday’s win.  Asdrubal Cabrera had 2 doubles and 2 walks in 7 plate appearances, and Victor Martinez was 4-for-12.  Victor is hitting .360 in 2008, but he is not hitting for power yet – his 18 hits include 16 singles and 2 doubles.

The Bad

  1. The rest of the offense.  Take away Martinez, Cabrera and Blake, and the rest of the team hit just .149 with 12 strikeouts in 67 AB.  Franklin Gutierrez had 2 hits in 11 AB.  Grady Sizemore had 2 hits in 13 AB and struck out 3 times. Travis Hafner was 1-for-8.  Jason Michaels was hitless again and saw only 7 pitches in his 2 AB yesterday.
  2. Rafael Perez.  Last year, Perez was almost unreachable in a set-up role, posting a 1.78 ERA in 60 innings.  He took the loss yesterday, giving up a run on 4 hits over 2 innings.  Over 3 IP in the series, twins hitters hit .357 against Perez, who now boasts a 5.19 ERA and 1.846 WHIP.

The Ugly: take your pick, it was all pretty ugly.

What’s Going On With Cliff Lee?

Again, Cliff Lee is the story of 2008 for the Tribe, the flip side to the debacle that is C.C. Sabathia.  Last year, Lee was 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA.  This year, he’s 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA.  In 2007, opponents hit .284 against him, and lefties hit .327 with a .917 OPS.  In 2008, opponents are hitting just .111, and lefties are hitting .120 with 7 strikeouts in 25 AB.  What is the cause of the turnaround?

Lee is clearly throwing more strikes, although not spectacularly so.  In 3 starts, he’s thrown 66.5% strikes.  In 2007, he threw 64.8% strikes.  Cliff’s problem last year wasn’t walks, however, it was that he was hit and hit hard.  His 2007 average of 3.3 walks per 9 innings was the same as Jake Westbrook’s, and not much higher than Fausto Carmona (2.8 BB/9).  His 10.4 hits per 9 innings was higher than any of the starters other than Paul Byrd (11.2).  In addition, 41% of Lee’s hits in 2007 went for extra bases, leading to that .917 OPS.  In 2008, Lee has lowered those averages to 0.8 BB/9 and 3.2 hits/9.  He’s striking out almost 8 batters per 9 innings.  Of the 8 hits he’s given up, only one has been for extra bases (a triple). So he’s throwing more strikes, but not enough more strikes to explain why he’s not giving up hits.

His pitch selection and velocity are basically the same as last year.  In 2007, he threw 72.3% fastballs; this year, it’s 73.7%.  His velocity is up slightly, from 90.3 MPH to 90.7.  He is throwing more curves this year, with fewer sliders and changeups.  His curves are up from 4.9% to 8.8%.  His sliders are down from 6.1% to 2.9%, while his changeups are down from 16.7% to 14.6%.  Clearly, he feels he can throw the curve for strikes now, whereas he did not last year – he threw 24 curves in 2007, and has already thrown 18 this year.  Statistically, the biggest single change appears to be movement on his pitches, not velocity. Specifically, his vertical movement is similar, if a little less, but his horizontal movement is up materially.  Compare 2007 to 2008:

  Movement in x (in.) Movement in z (in.)
  2008 2007 2008 2007
Fastball 5.66 3.83 11.65 12.85
Curve -6.14 -4.76 -5.94 -5.22
Slider -2.73 -1.29 4.65 6.11
Change 7.99 8.01 9.76 10.13

Whatever the difference is, here’s hoping he keeps it up, and it spreads to C.C.

Next up: three games in Kansas City starting tomorrow night, wrapping up the 8 game road trip.  C.C. Sabathia (0-3, 13.50) faces Gil Meche (1-2, 6.08) on Tuesday.  Fausto Carmona (2-1, 1.96) matches up against Brett Tomko (1-2, 3.60) on Wednesday, followed by Cliff Lee (3-0, 0.40) and Brian Bannister (3-1, 2.42) in Thursday’s finale.  The Tribe then returns home to face the Yankees.

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