I was watching last night's Red Sox-Rangers game and as Cliff Lee was retiring hitter after hitter after hitter, I kept thinking to myself, "is this guy really this good?" It wasn't just the outs, but it was how he was getting them. Four times he retired the side in order in fewer than 10 pitches, which allowed him to enter the ninth inning with a pitch count of 85.
Unfortunately he allowed the tying run in the ninth, which spoiled his chance for a complete game victory, but that outing got me thinking; Cliff Lee doesn't get enough respect in fantasy baseball these days.
When thinking of the top pitchers in baseball the names Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright come regularly into the conversation. Then you have the up-and-coming guys like Jon Lester, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson knocking on their door.
Where does that leave poor Cliff Lee? He’s only won a Cy Young award and has been the hottest pitching commodity during the last two trade deadlines.
And yet, people don’t seem to give him the credit he deserves, because right now he is arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He has pitched as many complete games as league leader Roy Halladay in five fewer starts and leads the league with a 0.94 WHIP.
On Wednesday, I named him one of the best values among starting pitchers so far in fantasy baseball and keep in mind that he missed all of April with an oblique injury.
A couple of things stand out when you look at Cliff Lee’s peripherals. First, his 13.85 K/BB ratio is off the charts as he bests second place Roy Halladay (6.74 K/BB) by a healthy margin. Cliff Lee is helped by his Brett Saberhagen-like control (7 BB in 121 2/3 IP) and his ability to get ahead of hitters (70 F-strike percentage), which allows him to go deeper into games thus increasing his chance to rack up the wins.
Lee is one of those pitchers that does everything right and while he doesn’t put up gaudy strikeout numbers, the gains in all the other categories make him more valuable than guys like Tim Lincecum, C.C. Sabathia and Felix Hernandez.
For the rest of the season I would rank Lee fifth among starting pitchers behind Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson.
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