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Entries in cliff lee (10)


Lee v. Cain

At minimum, Philly's Cliff Lee and San Francisco's Matt Cain will pull down nearly $250 million combined between now and 2018. Last night, they showed why. Lee became the first pitcher since Aaron Harang (2007) to last 10 innings, holding the Giants scoreless while whiffing seven, walking none and giving up seven hits. Cain punched out four and walked one in nine innings, allowing just two hits. 

While neither pitcher got the W he so richly deserved, Lee and Cain both produced one of the top five pitching performances of the year so far as judged by Game Score:

Highest Game Scores for starting pitchers, 2012

1 Matt Cain 4/13/2012 SFG PIT W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 96
2 Edwin Jackson 4/14/2012 WSN CIN W 4-1 CG 9 ,W 87
3 Chad Billingsley 4/6/2012 LAD SDP W 6-0 GS-9 ,W 87
4 Matt Cain 4/18/2012 SFG PHI W 1-0 GS-9 86
5 Cliff Lee 4/18/2012 PHI SFG L 0-1 GS-10 85
6 Matt Garza 4/12/2012 CHC MIL W 8-0 GS-9 ,W 85
7 Jered Weaver 4/6/2012 LAA KCR W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 84
8 Justin Verlander 4/5/2012 DET BOS W 3-2 GS-8 84
9 Barry Zito 4/9/2012 SFG COL W 7-0 SHO9 ,W 83
10 Roy Halladay 4/5/2012 PHI PIT W 1-0 GS-8 ,W 83

Source: Baseball-Reference

Lee (79 percent) and Cain (70) each surpassed the 70 percent strike mark, but they did it with contrasting styles. Lee peppered the strike zone while getting lots of ground balls. Cain, meanwhile, relied on jumpy Phillies hitting weak fly balls.

No starter has placed more pitches in the strike zone than Lee during the Pitch F/X era, and last night was no exception. Lee tossed 59 of his 102 pitches (58 percent) over the plate against San Francisco, never reaching a three-ball count while staying low and away against a lineup featuring seven hitters swinging from the right side:

Lee's pitch location vs. San Francisco, 4/18/12

Lee's "pound the knees" approach produced 18 grounders, compared to five fly balls. While Lee stayed low and in the zone, Cain often threw out off the plate to a Philly lineup with six lefty swingers:

Cain's pitch location vs. Philadelphia, 4/18/12

Only 36 of Cain's 91 pitches (40 percent) were in the zone. But Philly hitters chased 43 percent of his out-of-zone stuff. Unlike Lee, Cain took to the air with a 7-to-16 ground ball-to-fly-ball ratio.

Two aces, 19 combined scoreless frames and not a single pitch topping 92 mph on the radar gun. Lee and Cain showed different ways to dominate without elite velocity. We might not see a better duel all season long.


The August Talent of Cliff Lee

It could be because he shares a birthday with Ted Williams (and with yours truly) but I am in awe of Cliff Lee. While every pitcher is unique, Lee's differences between his pitching brethern seems more distinctive than those of his colleagues. He has mastered the craft of pitching through pinpoint control, great stuff, and pitching savvy. But instead of comparing him to Halladay, Lincecum, Weaver or Verlander, I want to show you the difference between the Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee in August, 2010 and the Phillies' Cliff Lee in August, 2011.

August, 2010

Perhaps it was the pressure of joining a first-place team via trade with the thought that his arrival would lead them to the Promised Land, but Lee was not himself last August. And his record showed it. Lee finished his first month in the Texas heat with a 1-4 record and a 6.35 ERA.

Batters hit .313 against him last AugustAs you can see, Lee was throwing his 739 pitches in the strike zone, but his 70% strike rate was probably too much. What was definitely too much was his reliance on his fastball, which he threw 63.4% of the time. Batters hit .288 against the fastball and slammed four homers. If you include his cutter amongst the hard pitches he threw, batters hit .320 against him with five homers. 

613 of his 739 pitches were fastballs and cuttersMost all of those pitches were across the middle of the plate.

August, 2011

But Lee was where he wanted to be last month. In the pitching environment of the Philadelphia Phillies, away from the Texas heat and New York glare, Lee has proven to be himself...and that is an outstanding pitcher. This August, Lee was 5-0 with a microscopic 0.45 ERA. He gave up just two runs in 39.2 innings.

Last month, Lee threw 551 pitches and batters hit .173 against himWhat was the difference? You can initially see that Lee used the complete strike zone, top to bottom. But you really have to appreciate how he mixed his pitches up. Not pressing or trying to impress, Lee threw his fastball just 48.5% of the time and batters ony hit .179 against it with one homer. Including his cutter, 394 of his pitches were "hard."

But by mixing in his change-up, which he threw 17.8% of the time and holding batters to a .179 average, along with his curveball, which he threw 10.5% of the time, which he held batters to a .125 average, Lee was mixing up all his pitches, and in the process strengthening the effectiveness of them all.

Lee's 8/11 "soft stuff"Look at the difficulty righties had against the lefty Lee as they had to constantly reach for the change-up and the curve on the outer portion of the plate. Righties reached him for a mere four singles and a double, but they grounded out 14 times.

Last year, the baseball world expected Lee to be pitching for the Yankees in August, 2011. Lee made a decision to choose an environment that was right for him and despite the money both Texas and NY was tossing at him, he chose the Phils. It was clearly the right choice for both parties.



Who is getting Squeezed?

Time to check in on which pitchers aren't getting the close calls from umpires:

(ClStk%=called strikes/pitches taken; Data based on PitchFX strike zone.)C.J. Wilson (TEX) ranks number one in terms of the most pitches called balls in the strike zone with 124.  But this is due to volume; Wilson has thrown the second most pitches within the strike zone in the majors this season behind only Cliff Lee (PHI)

Doug Fister (SEA) and Cliff Lee rank second and third in most missed strikes with 114 and 108 respectively.  Chad Billingsley (LAD) comes in 4th with 107 missed strikes - combine that with his overall 17th ranking in lowest called strike percentage in the zone, and he's a good candidate for the most squeezed pitcher in baseball this season.