Philadelphia Phillies: Examining Cliff Lee's Strange Winless Streak

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Philadelphia Phillies: Examining Cliff Lee's Strange Winless Streak
Al Bello/Getty Images

I suppose that there are worst fates in life than the current one that is facing Phillies' co-ace Cliff Lee.

A little perspective will reveal that the man seems to have his health, a great family, and those proverbial 21.5 million, and escalating, reasons to be happy. And yes, he seems to be a happy guy who can probably get along on a whole lot less. Add to all this the fact that he is playing where he wants to and where he is adored by his fans, and life is okay.

Did I mention that he seems to always be one of the focal points of his sport come the postseason? That is true of his last few years, and he is playing for a team that could give him more shots at a ring. Well, they could; just a little more on that in a bit.

Putting all of those rather nice considerations aside, one then considers the following. After two months of the 2012 season, one of baseball's greatest and most competitive hurlers has no wins. Zero. Zip. Nada. And it's not as if Lee has pitched poorly. No, that's hardly the case.

So, if we can muster some baseball sympathy for a multi-millionaire who seems to have it all (but a single win in 2012, that is), perhaps, we can do so for Cliff. Well, can't we?

It must be killing him to have a 3.00 ERA, excellent peripheral numbers and be saddled with an 0-2 record as the calendar flips to June. One usually can't tell by his calm, team-oriented demeanor, but that has to be the case, right?

Here is a factoid for you and Mr. Lee to ponder. Ten, yes, 10, other Phillies pitchers have at least one win this year.

Jake Diekman (with his somewhat misleading 5.68 ERA) is 1-0. Chad Qualls (who has looked as poor as his 4.68 ERA indicates) has found his way to a 1-1 record. Even Raul Valdes, bless his heart, is 2-0. Cliff Lee? No wins and two losses after eight starts.

By the numbers, Lee has averaged more than seven innings per start (58 innings in eight starts), which is the highest of anyone on the staff, including Cole Hamels, who is enjoying an 8-1 season. He has gone at least six innings in all eight, and six of the outings have been quality starts—three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings. Of course, if there was any baseball justice, he should have been credited with multiple quality starts for the masterpiece he threw in San Francisco on April 18. Ten (yes, 10) innings of seven-hit, no walk, shutout ball earned him a no-decision in a game that the Phillies lost 1-0 in the bottom of the 11th.

Cliff Lee's WHIP (1.02) is eighth best in the National League, and just a hair higher than Hamels and another pretty fair lefty, reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw. In fact, the combined win-loss record of the pitchers with a better (most only marginally so) WHIP is 40-13, or an average of roughly 6-2.

If ERA is your thing, of all the18 pitchers in the NL with an ERA of 3.00 or lower, only two others (the similarly jinxed Ryan Dempster of the Cubs at 0-3 and the Nats' Jordan Zimmerman, who somehow is stuck with a 3-5 record) have a losing record.

Do you like strikeout-to-walk ratios? Despite missing three starts, Lee is ranked 26th in the league with 54 Ks, achieved in only 57 innings. He has issued fewer free passes than any of the others, and his 5.4 K/BB ratio is the best in the NL, just ahead of Hamels and the Giants' Matt Cain.

Another puzzling thing about Cliff's winless streak is that Lee does about as much to help himself—he fields, hits (batting .333), runs the bases and works quickly—as any pitcher in the game.

There must be a reason that the Phils have looked like the 1962 Mets when he has been the pitcher of record and the 1927 Yankees once he is removed. Wednesday night's box score will reflect that the Phillies beat the Mets 10-6, and of course, they did. Some sites will even show that the Phils scored 10 runs for Lee. Of course, nine of those runs came after Lee's six innings of work.

The good news in all this is that these things should even out over the 162-game campaign. One would think so, anyway.

Ironically, Lee's numbers are almost identical to Hamels' in many categories this year; Cole, though is 8-1 to Cliff's 0-2. Hamels should be able to relate to Lee's current misery; he suffered through an eight-start winless streak in 2010. As I observed back then, Hamels also threw the heck out of the ball during that skid.

Phillies fans and fans of what I call baseball justice must be hoping that Lee's streak will end at only eight starts.

...

ONE MORE THING: 

Despite zero wins from Lee, a strangely ineffective (although now we understand why)  Roy Halladay in May, an injury to Vance Worley and the reappearance of the bad Joe Blanton—and I didn't even mention the absence of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard—the Phillies are only three games out of first place with more than two-thirds of the season to be contested. As the five-time defending NL East champions, that may offer a glimpse of optimism.

 

Matt Goldberg, a Featured Columnist for the Phillies the last two seasons, writes frequently for Bleacher Report as well as for philly2philly.com and jewocity.com.  Please check his site, tipofthegoldberg.com and new fan page for more info.

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