2010 Fantasy Baseball: Cliff Lee the Next Victim of Postseason Innings?

Nick KappelAnalyst IIIMarch 4, 2010

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 28:  Cliff Lee #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch against the New York Yankees in Game One of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 28, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As the season approaches, I will pinpoint a few different aspects of fantasy baseball which  are overlooked by most managers. This edtion’s “overlooked aspect” has to do with high innings-pitched totals, particularly in the postseason.

James Shields pitched 215 innings in 2007 and 2008. Both seasons saw him post an ERA under 4.00, while maintaining a stellar WHIP of 1.11 and 1.15. 2009 was a different story, as Shields' ERA went north of 4.00, while his WHIP ballooned to 1.32.

So what happened? There are a few different things we can point to, but one theory pertains to the high-stress innings Shields pitched in the 2008 postseason.

During the Rays’ magical run in the 2008 playoffs, Shields tallied 25 innings pitched, raising his season total to 240. This, of course, cut Shields’ off season short by an entire month, a task he wasn’t used to enduring.

Likewise, Chris Carpenter averaged 215 innings and a 3.09 ERA per season between 2004 and 2006. During the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series run, Carpenter logged a total of 254 innings.

Carpenter made just one start the next season, 2007. In May, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow. Two months later, he was scheduled for Tommy John surgery.

In the two seasons following his 254-inning season, Carpenter totaled just 21 1/3 innings. While he did return to form in 2009, the post season innings of 2006 clearly impacted him in the seasons that followed.

So what can we learn from this? The obvious thing to do is to locate any starters who pitched deep into the 2009 playoffs and have pitched 200-plus innings in recent years.

The first name that comes to mind is CC Sabathia . The big southpaw, however, should get a pass.

Sabathia pitched 251 innings in 2007, following that up with 253 innings in 2008. The former Cleveland farmhand followed with a 230-inning season in 2009 while adding 36 1/3 postseason innings. Despite the enormous workload, Sabathia’s performance hasn’t suffered. Bottom line: CC is a horse and is one of the few exceptions to the “overworked” rule.

Cliff Lee came out of nowhere in 2008, logging a then career-high 223 1/3 innings, while posting a career-best 2.54 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. 2009 saw Lee increase his innings pitched total to 231, though he remained very good, posting a 3.22 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.

Lee’s 2009 postseason performance, however, is cause for concern.

During the Phillies’ playoff run, Lee pitched a whopping 40 2/3 innings, raising his season total to 271 and one-third . Lee has now logged 494 and two-thirds innings in the last two seasons. The last time the 31-year-old pitched 200-plus innings in consecutive seasons was in 2005 and 2006. The very next season, 2007, saw Lee post a 6.29 ERA in just 97 1/3 major league innings, and included a demotion to Triple-A.

While there are exceptions to this overworked rule, it’s clearly worth mentioning. Keep this in mind when evaluating Lee’s prospects for 2010.