Philadelphia Phillies: Will Cliff Lee's Small Injuries Lead to Big Problems?
If you follow baseball, you will know about Cliff Lee’s injury. If not, then you should know that Cliff Lee, the prized acquisition of the Phillies’ offseason, suffered a side injury last week. Lee’s injury was not as serious as, say, Chris Carpenter’s or Adam Wainwright’s, but it could lead to bigger problems.
Now that the scare of Lee’s injury is passing, it’s time to analyze how it will change things.
This is Lee’s second side injury. The first one caused him to miss a large portion of the 2007 season. Lee also suffered another injury in 2010. This has led some people to believe that Lee is becoming injury prone.
Since Lee went 22-3 and won the AL Cy Young in 2008, I have become a fan (I’ll be the first to admit I jumped on that bandwagon). From observations throughout the last three seasons, I have come to several conclusions, and made predictions concerning Lee.
Based on these observations and some research on Lee, I have compiled this slideshow to answer some big questions about him.
Cliff's Current Injury
Cliff Lee has been reported having a muscle strain in his side, but it was a minor injury.
Lee did not even tell the press about having some pain around his armpits, he just covered it up. Lee pitched an abbreviated bullpen session, but he did not arouse any suspicion whatsoever because he is a veteran. For a few days after that, Lee did not pitch at all. This aroused enough suspicion from reporters to see what was up.
Later in the week after that first bullpen session, Lee addressed the press in front of his locker.
“I had a little something minor going on in my arm pit,” Lee said, with the look of a guy wanting to shrug his shoulders. “I called the trainers, they diagnosed it, I didn’t throw for a few days, and then I built back up and here I am, perfectly fine and right with everyone else. It’s not really a major issue.”
Lee reassured reporters that he was fine, and he is, with general manager Ruben Amaro saying Lee is “100 percent.” So for a few days, the Lee story has been regarded as “old news,” and “nothing to worry about.”
Now, however, is the time to answer the question how is this going to affect Lee in the season, and the Phillies’ hopes of becoming a dynasty.
Previous Pains and Injuries
Cliff Lee has had a rough experience with injuries in his career.
In 2007 Lee missed a large portion of the season with a serious side injury. This injury was near the bottom of Lee’s side, while the current one was near the top, which means that this is not a recurring theme. Even though it isn’t an existing injury, this side injury could mean that Lee is becoming injury prone.
Last season (around this time for that matter), Lee was sidelined with a strained abdomen that caused him to miss the first few weeks of the season. The Mariners used platelet-rich plasma injection therapy to treat him. The treatment has been used for the last decade mainly on joint issues such as tennis elbow, hamstring strains or other injuries to limbs. Lee was a kind of medical experiment since the treatment was used on his abdomen.
Lee now has suffered three injuries in just several years, which could be problematic for the Phillies.
Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano
Once upon a time, Carl Pavano was expected to be a number one or number two guy, but that has dramatically changed.
Pavano has suffered numerous injuries throughout his career, which has destroyed his stats and his value took a nose dive. In his last seven seasons, Pavano’s ERA has been under 4.50 only once. Pavano only made seven starts in 2008, and a pitiful two in 2007. Because Pavano has had so many injuries he is no longer considered a top-notch pitcher, but he is considered a liability.
Why am I talking about Carl Pavano in a slideshow about Cliff Lee? It’s because Lee's health is starting to look like Pavano’s. It is this similarity that helps us predict how Lee will do for the rest of his career. Lee has suffered multiple injuries in just a few seasons, and he does not seem to be able to stay away from them. Lee’s stats have suffered since his injuries, going 36-16 in his two seasons before suffering his last two injuries, Lee’s numbers were excellent in the regular season, and unreal in the postseason.
It was after his injuries that he had a difficult 2010, and he missed a few workout sessions this spring training. With this time missed, Lee could perform poorly this season, and he could have more injury problems down the road. If this pattern continues, Lee could very well turn into a Carl Pavano type pitcher.
Projecting His Health with the Phillies
As I mentioned before, Lee underwent a medical experiment when he used platelet injections to try to heal his abdomen in 2010.
This controversial treatment may have weakened Lee. This conclusion is not proven at all yet, but since Lee was injured again in almost exactly a year, there could be reason to believe that Lee’s treatment may have had a complication and made his body vulnerable. Hopefully, this is not the case for Philadelphia’s sake, but it is a potential conclusion. If it is correct, then Lee’s health will be terrible for the entire contract with the Phillies.
If the treatment is not causing Lee problems, there is still the fact that he has been injured multiple times in just a few years. Say that there is no connection between Lee’s injuries, there is still the possibility of Lee re-injuring himself, or developing yet another injury. With this knowledge in mind and it beginning to seem that Lee is in fact injury prone, I would project that over the five years (with there being an option for a sixth) Lee will have one, possibly two injuries while still making $120 million guaranteed.
How Will Cliff Lee's Injuries Hurt the Phillies Dynasty?
Cliff Lee was supposed to be the second pitcher in the dangerous Phillies rotation, but now that he has missed some time that the other four had, things could be changing. Lee missed workouts and the beginning of the 2010 campaign, and he struggled mightily. If Lee’s numbers are as poor as they were in the beginning of 2010, then Roy Oswalt and/or Cole Hamels could become the number two guy.
If Lee performs poorly this season, the Phillies will still make the playoffs (that is almost a given). The question would be: How far do they go into the playoffs? Even with three aces and a poorly performing Lee, the Phils would be able to win the NLDS, only needing three victories. The Phillies would probably struggle in the NLCS against the Giants or Braves if they ran into them. In the World Series, the Phillies would probably lose to the Red Sox.
Lee being ineffective could be detrimental to the Phillies' hopes of winning the World Series in 2011. The Phillies had Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt last season, with Joe Blanton pitching decently well. If Lee does not make a contribution, the Phillies’ pitching would not improve at all, and they could meet the same fate they did last season. If Lee performs less than stellar in the postseason, the Phillies could have a much closer race than anticipated.
How Will Lee's Injuries Change His Career Value?
If Cliff Lee turns into a Carl Pavano type of pitcher, and he suffers some injuries, then his value could plummet.
When Pavano started to injure himself frequently, and he became a liability, there were few teams who wanted him. The situation could be the same for Lee.
This offseason, during his free agency, there were only about four or five teams who could afford his high value. The next time he enters free agency, the case could be the same, but for different reasons. If Lee suffers another injury or two, then only four or five teams might be willing to take the chance on him. Lee’s value could plummet if he continues to get hurt.
Does Lee Have Any Shot at Cooperstown?
Cliff Lee is already a huge stretch for the Hall of Fame.
Sure Lee is one of—if not the most dominant—postseason pitchers in the game today, but besides that what else has he got? An ERA close to 4.00, and only 102 wins in nine seasons? Lee’s only chance to make the Hall would be if he has unreal numbers in Philadelphia, which, with his injury problems, have chances just barely over zero.
If Lee keeps getting hurt, there is absolutely no way for him to make the Hall.