Cliff Lee had perhaps the strangest season of any Phillie in 2012. He had a 3.16 ERA but went 6-9. He averaged 7.0 innings per starts but had no complete games. He had 7.39 times as many strikeouts as walks but wasn’t as dominant as he could have been because he allowed 26 home runs, nine more than his season average the previous three years.
Lee’s season really hammered down the absurdity of pitcher wins as an evaluative metric. He had fewer wins than relievers James Russell and Santiago Casilla.
Why? Well, because the Phillies gave him just 3.20 runs of support per game, fourth-lowest in all of baseball. Lee allowed 79 runs this season and the Phillies scored 75 runs with him in the game … meaning that as good as he was, the Phillies made the other pitcher look better.
Gio Gonzalez, who won 21 games, was given 148 runs of support, almost twice as much as Lee.
Phillies fans turned their back on Lee midway through the season. Most knew he was doing his job and keeping the Phils in games, but the fact that the team won just three of his first 13 games became frustrating.
It’s really all about timing. Lee’s worst stretch of the season came when the Phillies needed him most: at the end of May through the end of June, when Roy Halladay was on the DL.
In eight starts from May 20-June 29, Lee had a 5.68 ERA and the opposition hit .308 off him. The Phillies went 2-6.
But it was mostly smooth sailing for Lee in the second half. He had 88 strikeouts to just four walks over his final 12 starts, for a K/BB of 22-to-1 that I don’t think any of us have ever seen. His ERA over his last eight starts was 1.44.
One can’t even say “Lee figures to rebound in 2013,” because he already did rebound. His 2012 wasn’t as good as his 2011 (2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .229 opp. BA), but he should be worth his salary next season.
If there’s something Lee needs to work on, it’s the quality of his first pitches. He led all of baseball in strike percentage and first-pitch strike percentage, but when batters did make contact on his initial offering, they hit .376.
All in all, though? An excellent 2012 season that looked like less than it was because of a glaring lack of run support and a poorly timed cold spell.