Reports of Cliff Lee's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated
With Cliff Lee’s struggles last night against the Orioles, some have declared that Lee cannot continue his All-Star performance for the Rangers, citing all sorts of stats to back up their panic. I say it’s still too early to worry.
I would also say it's too early to say Lee will be rocked regularly pitching for the Rangers. Yes, his ERA is highest in Arlington. However, every time he has pitched there, he has faced an offensively-strong Rangers team (for example, the Rangers have the third most runs scored in the Majors, behind only the Yankees and Red Sox). Instead of pitching all of his games in Dallas against good hitting teams, he will now likely pitch many of them facing the Mariners and A's, the worst and fourth-worst scoring lineups in the AL. That should bring his ERA down.
He didn't walk anyone, which is always good; it shows he still has control. He also pitched a complete game in 95 pitches, showing he can work efficiently. The two biggest things I noticed were that his strikeouts were down, and his HR/FB (home runs per fly ball) was up. He only struck out two batters the whole game, while prior to that he was striking out nearly eight per nine innings. Furthermore, he allowed three home runs on 13 fly balls, compared to a 5.8 home run-to-fly ball ratio for the season. We can expect his HR/FB to increase while pitching half his remaining games in Arlington, but the rise should not remain quite that dramatic. Also, as he returns to striking out more batters, his runs allowed should lower as fewer balls make it into play.
For all these stats, there is one thing I haven't mentioned. Lee is still human, a human who 24 hours before he pitched found out that he would be pitching for a new team. Since he was originally supposed to start the day he was traded, I would not be surprised to find the flight from Seattle to Dallas interrupted his routine for days he pitches. According to WikiAnswers, Seattle to Dallas is a four hour and 15 minute flight, not counting anytime spent at the airport. After that, Lee still has to find time to do regular things like sleep, warm up, etc. It would not be too far a leap to suggest he just needs to return to a more regular routine.
In short, I think it is very premature to declare that Lee's performance will suffer as much as it did last night. His acquisition should help the Rangers down the stretch, regardless of his performance last night.
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