Why Cliff Lee Going To Texas Is Good For Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.

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Why Cliff Lee Going To Texas Is Good For Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.
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Philadelphia Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can breathe a sigh of relief.

Now that former Phillies pitcher and fan favorite Cliff Lee has been traded to the Texas Rangers, Phillies fans will no longer be scoreboard, watching every five days wondering "what if?"  

Lee's starts will no longer be Chinese water torture for a Phillies team with three reliable starters and two train wrecks.  

Phillies fans will no longer calculate and recalculate the math it would have required to keep Lee.

After a half season of angst-inducing dominance for the Seattle Mariners, during which the Phillies and their fans have constantly wondered "what have we done?" Lee has been traded to the Texas Rangers, a team that plays in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

And the dividends have been immediate.

As Roy Halladay pitched nine shutout innings to keep the Phillies in a game as Reds' pitcher Travis Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, Lee was getting shelled in his Rangers debut.

And we all breathe a sigh of relief as Lee now joins the long list of good-to-great pitchers to get lit up at The Ballpark.

In an era dominated by the big four pitchers - Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez - we rarely spoke of Kevin Brown as an all-time great, but his numbers match up favorable to Hall of Fame caliber pitchers John Smoltz and Don Drysdale.

In 1996 with Florida, he led the NL with a remarkable 1.89 ERA and 0.944 WHIP. He won another ERA title in Los Angeles in 2000 with a 2.58, and again won the WHIP crown with a 0.991. He also led the league in wins once, home runs per at-bat a few times, K:BB ratio once, and games started three times.

For his career, Brown finished with a lovely 211-144 record, 3.28 ERA, and 127 ERA+.

In the one year Brown pitched in The Ballpark, he went 7-9 with a 4.82 ERA, 1.576 WHIP, and a league leading 218 hits allowed in only 170.0 innings pitched.

Ever heard of Chan Ho Park? Park spent the first nine years of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was an above average pitcher - 84-58 record, 3.77 ERA, well under a hit allowed per inning pitched.

Park signed a big free agent contract with Texas in 2002, and this above-average pitcher became one of the worst pitchers in baseball. In three years, Park went 22-23 with a 5.79 ERA, allowing 55 home runs and 423 hits allowed in 380.2 innings pitched.

And so it has gone with Kevin Millwood, Rick Helling, John Burkett, Darren Oliver, Vicente Padilla, and other solid-to-good-to-great pitchers who have been absolutely shelled during their time playing for the Texas Rangers at The Ballpark.

Arguably the most successful pitcher in the history of The Ballpark was Aaron Sele, who in two seasons there went 37-20 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.525 WHIP. Yikes.

Welcome to Arlington, Cliff Lee.

Looking at Lee's 2010 game log, his performance in 2010 with the Seattle Mariners was fantastic. Lee had four complete games; five other outings of eight innings or more; and two outings in which he did not allow a single run.

Perhaps most amazingly of all, Lee allowed four or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 13 starts as a Mariner.

In his first start with the Texas Rangers on Saturday night, Lee got The Ballpark treatment. Although he did pitch a complete game and took only 95 pitches to do it, Lee got shelled to the tune of six earned runs on nine hits and three home runs while striking out only two batters.

Out of 35 batters faced, Lee induced 12 ground balls and 21 fly balls, the second highest fly ball total of his season. Orioles batters also had seven line drives off of Lee, which was the third highest total of his season.

It is not going to be easy going for the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner with the Rangers, and that is no knock on him. Fact is, it isn't merely hard to pitch at the Ballpark in Arlington; it is nearly impossible because The Ballpark is one of the true hitters paradises in all of baseball.

Remember, this is the stadium that made Gary Matthews, Jr. a star. This is the stadium where Milton Bradley led the American League in OPS+. This is the stadium that has resurrected Vlad Guerrero's career, and made Josh Hamilton an MVP candidate.

And this is probably the stadium that is going to chew Lee up and spit him out.

To be fair, Lee is a better pitcher than most, and if anyone can succeed in the Ballpark it would seem to be Lee. Lee doesn't make lots of mistakes, has excellent location with his pitches, and has had some of the best home runs allowed numbers in baseball over the last three years.

If, however, we were to play devil's advocate, this is why we might think Lee might have big problems in Texas: as between bases on balls and base hits, Lee eschews the former and takes his chances on the latter. Rather than give up a free pass, Lee would rather allow hitters to make bad contact with his pitches and get easy outs.

Even during his Cy Young campaign of 2008, while Lee was leading the league in fewest home runs and walks per nine innings pitched, he was allowing 8.6 hits per nine innings. In 2009, Lee actually led Major League Baseball in total hits allowed with 24.

Unfortunately for Lee, there is no such thing as "bad contact" at the Ballpark as Lee learned on Saturday night, and a pitcher who has a tendency towards giving up hits is in trouble.

Oh, and here's a trouble-sign: going into last night's game, of all the stadiums in which Lee has pitched more than one game, guess where the worst ERA of his career has been?

The Ballpark.

In fact, after last night's performance, Lee now has a 7.33 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched there. Since he gave up six runs in nine innings last night, that means his ERA in The Ballpark actually went down during the course of last night's game.

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington can make good pitchers look bad and can make even the best pitchers in baseball look mediocre. It is going to be a long three months for Lee.

And an easier three months for Ruben Amaro.

 

Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.

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