Upon seeing Cliff Lee give up three home runs in yet another poor start, the common question people want to ask is probably: “What is happening to Lee?” However what the real question should be is: “Why can’t Lee pitch well in the month of July?”
Both are valid questions, and as it turns out, one lends its answer to the other.
After winning a career-low six games in 2012, Lee came back determined to do better this season. And after three straight quality starts in which he pitched 23.2 innings and gave up just four runs, it seemed the Lee was right back on track to put up phenomenal numbers in 2013.
Then, the left-handed ace faltered a bit, giving up 12 runs in 18 innings of work, losing two of his next three starts. Although, when the calendar turned to May, Lee turned it up. He gave up just nine runs, only two home runs and just 33 hits, in 45 innings pitched. His ERA for the month was 1.80, he was 4-1, and the Philadelphia Phillies as a team went 5-1 in those starts.
Lee followed his incredible May up with a pretty solid June. The ace won three of his six starts as he struck out 52 batters in just over 44 innings of work.
But then came July, and as he has so often in his career, Lee has struggled mightily. And while it may be true that Lee is an incredibly streaky pitcher, what is also true is that, for whatever reason, the 2008 AL Cy Young award winner cannot pitch in the month of July.
And now to the second question: “Why can’t Lee pitch well in July?”
Whether it is the grind of a long season taking a toll or the changing elements, throughout the course of his 11-year career, Lee has not been a good pitcher in July. Here are Lee’s July ERAs by year:
As you can see, Lee is a bit of a conundrum.
Even in Lee’s Cy Young year, 2008, his July ERA at 3.14 was the second highest in any month that season. In other years, July has statistically been his worst month as well.
Certainly, in recent years, Lee has been a better July pitcher. But in 2011 and now again in 2013, it is looking more like Lee struggling in July is the norm not the exception.
So while the Phillies continue to figure out if they are to be buyers or sellers, any hope the team has to make the playoffs is really riding on Lee’s shoulders. And luckily for the team, Lee will only have one more start in July.
After that, it is August, a month in which Lee has done some of his best work throughout his career.