Philadelphia Phillies: Is Cliff Lee Finally On The Decline?

By Troy Weller
Cliff Lee Philadelphia Phillies
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

He may have already recorded two wins in the early going, but Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee has struggled so far in 2014.

There’s still a lot of baseball left to play, but Lee’s numbers so far have been highly disappointing. He lasted only six innings during the Phillies’ 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night, giving up three earned runs and surrendering eight hits in the process. Those eight hits were the fewest that an opponent has recorded against him so far this season.

In the past, Lee has been the victim of poor run support from his own offense. Yet this time around, he needs to shoulder some of the blame. Lee’s WHIP of 1.67 is second-worst in the entire majors for pitchers who have started three games this year. He’s not retiring batters at the rate he should, especially for the team’s No. 1 starter.

What’s more troublesome for the Phillies right now is that opposing players seem to be hitting Lee fairly easily. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a blistering .418. This means that roughly two out of every five batters who put the ball in play against Lee are reaching base safely. In comparison, other elite pitchers — specifically Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox — have BABIPs that fall below the .230 line.

Lee has 14 strikeouts over the last 13 innings of work, but he needs to find other ways to get batters out. Manager Ryne Sandberg‘s offense can go ice cold on any given day, and the Phillies need more from Lee than they’re getting right now. A dominant pitcher over the last several seasons, many expected Lee to continue the trend in 2014. But at age 35 and turning 36 in August, is his career finally on the decline?

The numbers suggest that it may be.

Troy Weller covers the Phillies for Follow him on Twitter @troyweller, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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