Friday, December 17, 2010

Cliff Lee, 4th Starter

Take a look at these statistics, from the 2010 season.

Keep in mind that ERA+ is earned-run average in comparison to the league average, and WHIP is walks plus hits, divided by innings pitched.

CC Sabathia: 21-7, 23-7 counting the postseason, 134 ERA+, 1.191 WHIP.

Andy Pettitte, 2010: 11-3, 12-4 counting the postseason, 130 ERA+, 1.271 WHIP.

Phil Hughes, 2010: 18-8, 19-10 counting the postseason, 102 ERA+, 1.248 WHIP.

Cliff Lee, 2010: 12-9, 15-11 counting the postseason, 130 ERA+, 1.003 WHIP.

In wins, both regular-season and postseason: 1. Sabathia, 2. Hughes, 3. Lee, 4. Pettitte.

In winning percentage, regular-season: 1. Pettitte, 2. Sabathia, 3. Hughes, 4. Lee -- a distant 4th.

In winning percentage, regular-season and postseason combined: 1. Sabathia, 2. Pettitte, 3. Hughes, 4. Lee -- a distant 4th.

You say wins and losses aren't an adequate measure of a pitcher's effectiveness? Fine, I'll put the Herman Edwards Card away, since a pitcher's wins and losses can be affected by the defense behind him, his relievers, and his run support. And Lee does have a big lead in innings pitched per start: 7.59 to CC's 6.99, Andy's 6.14 and Phil's 6.08.

In ERA+: 1. Sabathia, 2. tie between Pettitte and Lee, 4. Hughes.

In WHIP: 1. Lee, 2. Sabathia, 3. Hughes, 4. Pettitte. However, as Lee's now-former boss Nolan Ryan (who was also vastly overrated but was right when he said this) said when he broke the all-time record for most walks (in 1977, 6 years before he did so in strikeouts), "It's not how many you walk, it's how many you let score." Lee's amazing WHIP didn't translate to an appreciably better run prevention.


This is not "sour grapes" over not signing Lee. This is not "waving Yankee pom-poms," as someone told me I was doing.

This is cold hard numbers, and they show that Cliff Lee, had he done the exact same thing for the Yankees in 2010, might have been the Yankees' 3rd-best starter, if you take Hughes' comparatively low ERA+ into account. And would, if Pettitte retires (which is a toss-up at the moment), move up to 2nd-best, maybe.

Not to mention that Lee has never helped a team win a World Series. The other 3 have.

Cliff Lee would have been the Yankees' 4th starter in 2010.

Not getting him is no minus for the Yankees, because he didn't go to a potential Playoff rival (unless you count the Phillies as a potential World Series opponent, as they were in 2009).

Now they can use that money on scouting and development. Why spend all that money on one player that you don't already have, when you can spend it on ten players that you don't already have? And three you already do?


But don't just take my word for it. Try another self-styled Yankee expert and blogger, who puts it better than I have. The man who writes the Yankee-themed blog Baseball and the Boogie Down said it best, although the italics below are mine, to better make the point that he makes, opinions which I share:

<< Let's face it: Cliff Lee was never coming to the Yankees. I think Lee's camp themselves said there was nothing that the Yankees could have done differently. (Yankee general manager Brian) Cashman never stood a chance. At least he didn't trade (catching prospect Jesus) Montero plus others for him in July only to have him bolt for Philly in December.

Missing out Lee is like a push on a bet. It would have been more than awesome had they won and signed him, but they didn't lose by him signing with Philly. At least not yet.

If Andy Pettitte returns, which I think he will, the Yankees, for all intents and purposes, have the same rotation that won them 95 games last season. And that was with a crappy (A.J.) Burnett, and a 5th spot that was largely made up of (the now-gone Javier) Vazquez, (Sergio) Mitre, (the now-gone Dustin) Moseley, and (Ivan) Nova. There was no Cliff Lee in that rotation and they won 95 games.

Lee was not the key to a successful Yankee offseason. The key is Andy Pettitte. If he comes back, you're looking at pretty much the same team as last year, which, again, was a 95 game winner. Signing Lee would have been a pretty awesome insurance policy if Pettitte retires. If Andy comes back, they're still good and they'd be better than Boston.

So imagine the same team as last year, but now with what could be an improved Burnett, a mediocre 5th SP, and better production from (Derek) Jeter, A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), and (Mark) Teixeira, all of whom performed significantly below what's on the back of their baseball cards. You'd expect a similar outcome to last year, if not better.

Does missing out on Cliff Lee suck? Hell yeah. Is it the end of the world? Hell no. Right now, it all hinges on Andy. He's the key to a successful offseason. If he retires, Cashman will really need to prove his worth by making up for that loss. >>

J-Boogie moves to the right beat.


Then there's Paul Sullivan, Red Sox fan, author of the blog Sully Baseball, and commentator in the HBO documentary The Curse of the Bambino.

Remember him? In that film, he tells of watching Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with his brother, who kept dialing the phone to call their Met fan uncle in anticipation of the final out, which never came, thanks to the idiocy of Sox manager John McNamara, the losing of the plot (as they would say in English soccer) by reliever Calvin Schiraldi, the washedupness of reliever Bob Stanley, and the injuries of 1st baseman Bill Buckner.

In a discussion on the blog Subway Squawkers, he told me this: "Uncle Mike... you can not possibly be serious that you would put Cliff Lee and Phil Hughes in the same category."

This is true. You can't put Hughes and Lee in the same category: Hughes has been a World Champion, Lee has not. What's even more damning, Hughes has been deemed worthy of being kept by his current team -- in spite of being offered Johan Santana in exchange for Hughes and others. Whereas, 4 times in the last 17 months, Lee has been let go.

What is this telling us? It's telling us that, for some reason, suspected or completely unknown, Phil Hughes is more worth keeping than Cliff Lee. Yes, sure, Lee, I am serious.

Sully: "Hughes is a question mark at this point."

What's the question? How about, "Does anybody still think we should have included him in a trade for Santana?" If you do, I'd like to sell you the Zakim Bridge. (That's the tuning-fork-shaped bridge behind North Station and the new Boston Garden, which you may have seen on TV shows like The Practice, Boston Legal, Boston Public and Ally McBeal.)

Sully: "Hughes is a question mark at this point. So is Burnett... Nova... Mitre and even if Pettitte comes back, he's no spring chicken anymore."

Sort of like John Lackey. And Daisuke Matsuzaka. And even Josh Beckett. Face it, the Red Sox needed Lee a lot more than the Yankees did.

Sully: "The Yankees put ALL their eggs in the Cliff Lee basket and now have to fish for a replacement."

Uh, no, the Yankees put a few eggs in the Javier Vazquez basket, and now have to fish for a replacement. And they may already have caught such a fish in Mitre or Nova. And there's always the July 31 trading deadline.

Sully: "I'm sorry but an off season for the Yankees where they bring back Jeter, Rivera and Pettittte can't be considered a success. That's not addition. That's avoiding subtraction. They have a grand total of 2 pitchers they can rely on."

Physician, heal thyself: The Red Sox can count on Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. If that. They didn't even make the Playoffs this season.


Then there's Steve Cromer, who usually posts on Subway Squawkers under the name "urinalfresh23" -- apparently, a product he sells far better than he sells his baseball opinions -- and this Yankee Hater wrote:

"Losing out on Cliff Lee is a PR nightmare for the Yankers... Why do you think everyone in the front office is doing damage control?"

Everyone? I've heard from Cashman, but I haven't heard from Hal Steinbrenner, or Hank Steinbrenner, or Randy Levine, or Lonn Trost, or Gene Michael.

"A PR nightmare" is what happened with Joe Torre after the 2007 season. "A PR nightmare" is what happened with the Mitchell Report – which was effectively rendered meaningless when the revelations about David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez came out. "A PR nightmare" is what happened with Alex Rodriguez after the 2007 season, and again at the dawn of the 2009 season. "A PR nightmare" is what the Yankees avoided by keeping Jeter and Rivera.

The only remaining potential "PR nightmare," and it's not nearly the equal of the preceding, is if Andy Pettitte doesn't come back, as J-Boogie pointed out in his post on the subject, which made more sense than all the rest (mine included) combined.

And you know what? When those "PR nightmares" happened, the Yankees took the heat, moved on, and played Yankee baseball. You know, Steve, the kind your favorite team would play if their front office had brains and the players they got had brains, talent and health.

And what team is that? I'm not sure. The 2 teams whose fans hate the Yankees the most are the Mets and the Red Sox -- not necessarily in that order -- and fans of both are on very shaky ground when they complain about the Yankees' payroll: The Mets have been 1st or 2nd in the National League in payroll going back to their last glory period, 1984 to 1990 (which didn't have a whole lot of glory compared to those of the Yankees or even the Sox); while the Red Sox, in both 2004 and 2007, set new records for most money spent to buy a World Series champion. (The Yankees, of course, broke that record in 2009.)


Failing to sign Cliff Lee is no "nightmare" for the Yankees. A hypothetical Lee-as-Yankee, after getting a huge contract, failing in the 2011 World Series as he did in 2010? That would be a nightmare. As we found out when we got Randy Johnson, the guy people are acting like Lee is.

Which he isn't.

UPDATE: Pettitte did not play in 2011, but the Yankees won the Division anyway -- but not the Pennant. He came back in 2012 and 2013, then retired for good.

Lee went 17-8 for the Phils in 2011, but got bombed in the NLDS, and the Phils did not advance. He never appeared in another postseason game. He went 6-9 in 2012, 14-8 in 2013, and 4-5 in 2014, and retired, having thrown his last professional pitch at age 36. In other words, Lee would not have helped the Yankees in 2011 (they went exactly as far as the Phillies did), nor in 2012, nor in 2014.

In 2013, the Yankees missed the 2nd AL Wild Card by 6 games. The Yankees' worst starter that season was... Phil Hughes, 4-14. Would Lee have made a 6-game difference? Maybe. But he wouldn't have made a 12-game difference, which would have been needed to win the Division. And even if Joe Girardi had started him in the Wild Card Game, instead of CC, Andy or Hiroki Kuroda, against the Rays or Indians, would he have been a shoo-in for a good pitching performance? As a 35-year-old lefthander? I doubt it.

So, no, getting Cliff Lee for the 2011 season would not have been worth it.

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