How is it that one of the best pitchers in all of MLB can have 30 starts, throw 211 innings, only give up 75 earned runs, strike out 207 batters, have a WHIP of 1.11…and end up with a 6-9 record for the season? Just ask Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee, and undoubtedly the answer will come back “bad luck”.
Sorry Cliff, but whether or not you walked under any ladders, had your path crossed by a black cat, or broke any mirrors had not a thing to do with your record in 2012. The simple fact is that Lee got absolutely no run support from his offense, and his record suffered because of it.
The Phillies, who weren’t exactly an offensive force in 2012, averaged 4.22 runs per game. When Lee was the starting pitcher, the bats quieted considerably, as his teammates only gave him a mere 3.20 runs of support per nine innings, good for fourth-worst in the majors.
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon; when an ace pitcher takes the hill, hitters can tend to relax a bit and assume that big run production isn’t necessarily needed. But it’s not a situation that Lee had ever really found himself in, as his overall stats were very close to what he had put up the previous four seasons, but with considerably different results in the overall record.
It was the first losing season that Lee has posted since 2007 with the Cleveland Indians when he went 5-8 in just 20 starts, and I’ll bet the Indians wished they still had Lee to fall back on after their dismal pitching season in 2012. Since leaving Cleveland in midseason of 2009, Lee has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, compiling a 56-39 record, and never having an ERA over 3.98 for a season.
But even the best pitchers can’t win if their team doesn’t score, so the Phillies must be mindful of making sure they give Lee at least a few runs to work with. John Smoltz encountered a similar problem when with the Atlanta Braves, and it took Bobby Cox shaking up the lineup on the nights that Smoltz was starting to help break the trend of zero support. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel may have to employ something similar for Lee’s starts.
The Phillies missed the playoffs in 2012 for the first time after five straight NL East titles. With the 2012 division champion Washington Nationals still as strong as ever, and the rival Braves also improving after a 94-win season, the Phillies will need every win they can get out of the stars in their rotation to keep pace.