Cliff Lee was once the biggest free agent in Major League Baseball, at which point he stuck it to the New York Yankees and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for substantially less money. That was only a year and a half ago, but a lot has changed since then.
After a string of losses thanks to poor pitching and bad luck, the Phillies attempted to give Lee – and his hefty contract – away earlier this month, when Philadelphia placed the 33-year-old on the waiver wire. But we can’t really blame them. On Sunday, Lee might have awoken from his nightmarish season in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’, earning just his first win at home this season.
Yes, you read that correctly – his first win at Citizens Bank Park this season.
This is the same Lee that had the second best – behind his Cy Young season in 2008 – season of his career last season, finishing with a 17-8 record, a 2.40 ERA and 238 strikeouts. Those stats helped the Phillies finish with a 102-60 record – the best in baseball and the most wins in franchise history.
Lee’s stats this season have helped the Phillies struggle to dig out of the basement. At just 61-67, Philadelphia is third in the NL East and watching the youth movement in Washington attempt to run away with the division.
It’s rare that the best team in the league misses the playoffs the following year but the Phillies are certainly closing in on that feat. Sure, the team has had plenty of issues this year between injuries, sleeping bats and an awful bullpen, but Lee should have stepped up his game.
Sunday’s win at home was the first for Lee since Sept. 26 of last year, and like many outings this season, Lee looked good, tossing seven strong innings and allowing just one run on seven hits against Washington. With the win, Lee improved to 3-7 this season – but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Lee has 154 strikeouts so far this season, a 3.78 ERA and has allowed just one walk in his last 40 innings, which tells us that although he has put together plenty of terrible starts, poor run support is just as much to blame. The Phillies are averaging just 3.32 runs per nine innings when Lee starts and lead the majors in a stat ESPN’s Jayson Stark calls Criminally Unsupported Starts – at least six innings pitched in which no more than one run is scored for the starter – with 10. It also makes us wonder if he’s simply having a bad season or if he is on the decline.
One bad season certainly doesn’t define a career, or prove a player’s game is slipping, but at Lee’s position it can happen so quickly that it’s sometimes the only warning sign before it falls to pieces. Next year will be huge for the Phillies and Lee.
Photo Credit: Icon