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Entries in cliff lee (10)


Cliff Lee Quiets Red Sox

Cliff Lee tossed his third complete game shutout in a row last night, dominating Boston's patient, powerful offense while striking out five, walking two and allowing just two hits. Lee hasn't surrendered a run in his last 32 innings pitched, the longest stretch of his career, and he has allowed just one runner to cross home plate in 42 total June frames.

"I'm making pitches, staying out of the zone, using my breaking ball and getting lucky," Lee told reporters after his start.

The lefty is definitely making pitches, his breaking ball has been nasty, and he has received some fortunate bounces this month (.191 batting average on balls in play) after being snakebitten in April (.313) and May (.356). But, as his start against Boston shows, Lee isn't staying out of the zone so much as he's hitting the corners and avoiding throwing meatballs down the middle of the plate.

Against Boston, Lee threw 68 of his 112 pitches within the strike zone, or 61 percent. Even by Lee's standards -- he has thrown a major league-leading 56.7 percent percent of his offerings within the zone this season -- that's a lot of pitches over the plate. But what makes Lee's performance remarkable isn't the quantity of strikes, but the quality. Check out his fastball location versus the Red Sox:

Cliff Lee's fastball location versus Boston on June 28, 2011

Most of Lee's fastballs hugged the corners, and Red Sox batters went a collective 2-for-15 against the pitch.

Lee mentioned his curve in particular, and there again, he stayed within the zone while keeping the ball away from the center of the plate:

 Cliff Lee's curveball location versus Boston on June 28, 2011

You'll often hear managers and announcers talk about the difference between control, or puting the ball within the zone, and command, which means locating the pitch to a particular spot within the zone. Lee is an example of a pitcher who has both in spades.


The Best in 3-Ball Counts

Top 20 Pitchers by BB% in 3-Ball Counts (min. 75 PA)

Of course, simply limiting your walks with 3 balls is not an indication of success. You obviously want to avoid awarding free bases to batters, but you also don't want to do so at the expense of grooving pitches either. You can see that both Lee and Halladay were able to limit their opponents to around a .200 batting average (also around .300 slugging percentage for both) with three ball counts in 2010. Of course, they were just as successful when pitching with two strikes (Lee .220 SLG%, Halladay .243 SLG%, both w/ .161 BA). Conclusion: working the count on these Philly aces doesn't seem to do much good.


Added Dimensions

Aaron Gleeman notes that Jorge de la Rosa could be the Yankees back up plan if they do not sign Cliff Lee.  Both throw left-handed.  Both showed significant improvement over their career numbers since the start of the 2008 season.  Jorge is two years younger than Cliff.  De la Rosa would come at a lower cost, and the reason can be seen in the movement of his pitches.  Both pitchers see mostly right-handed batters, so the study concentrates on those hitters.

Jorge de la Rosa, pitch movement to RHB, 2008-2010Note that de la Rosa does a good job of mixing up the vertical component of his pitches.  He throws pitches (mostly fastballs) that stay up, and pitches with a big drop.  Almost all his pitches, however, move toward right-handed batters. 

Cliff Lee, pitch movement to RHB, 2008-2010

Lee adds two dimensions to his pitch movment.  His pitches not only stay up and drop, buy move left and right as well.  Lee forces batters to add two more dimensions to their thinking when trying to judge a pitch, and that makes solving the problem of hitting him much more difficult.  Lee is Kirk to de la Rosa's Khan.