It's almost unfair having Lee back in Philly... almost.
What can we say about Cliff Lee that hasn't already been said?
He transformed himself from failed starter, to staff ace, to perennial Cy Young candidate in just a few short seasons; he signed a $120 million contract, the fifth largest ever for a starting pitcher; and from the minute he set foot in Philadelphia, the Phillies were crowned World Series Champions.
In fact, rumor has it the other 29 team owners just wanted to forfeit 2011 to spend more time with their families, but Bud Selig turned them down because he wanted to see the first ever 162-0 season.
What can we expect out of Lee in 2011, aside from a World Series ring, that is? How about the same thing we've been seeing for the last three seasons...except he's actually pitching for a good team for the whole season and should finally rack up some wins.
And we know he can pitch in Citizens Bank Ballpark, but did you know that his FIP during his stint with the Phillies in 2009 was 2.83, the exact same FIP he had during his 22-3 Cy Young season in 2008?
The only thing that Lee seems to have lost from his game since his resurrection is the ability to walk hitters. Entering August last season, Lee had walked just seven hitters. In August and September alone he walked 13! That's, like, almost double!
Sarcasm aside, nothing has changed about how you should value Cliff Lee.
He'll throw a ton of innings, he'll contend for the National League ERA title, and he should close in on 20 wins.
The only thing that pitchers like C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, and Adam Wainwright do better than Lee is strike batters out. Lee's 7.84 K/9 in 2010 was his highest since 2004. If he maintains the same strikeout rate this season, he'll have to pitch 229.2 innings to hit 200 strikeouts. It's entirely possible for Lee to do that, but even then he would still trail the others.
Luckily for prospective Lee fantasy owners, we should see more than just 12 wins this season. Increased win totals, combined with an elite ERA and WHIP, make Lee one of the premier starters in the game.
The only guys I would definitely take before Lee are Halladay and Wainwright, and the only others in the conversation are Lincecum, Hernandez, and maybe Sabathia (sorry, Josh Johnson).
Fearless Forecast: 19-8 | 2.85 ERA | 1.10 WHIP | 188 K | 7.65 K/9 | 221 IP
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