Phillies Stay or Go: Cliff Lee

Phillies Stay or Go: Cliff Lee

How can Phils improve rotation for 2014?

October 17, 2013, 12:00 pm
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In 2013, Cliff Lee led all MLB starting pitchers in strikeout-to-walk ratio. (AP)

PHILLIES STAY OR GO?

Monday: Roy Halladay
Tuesday: Carlos Ruiz
Wednesday: Kevin Frandsen
Thursday: Antonio Bastardo
Friday: John Mayberry, Jr.
Saturday: Kyle Kendrick
Sunday: Phillippe Aumont
Monday: Erik Kratz
Tuesday: Ethan Martin
Wednesday: Jimmy Rollins
Thursday: Cliff Lee
Friday: Darin Ruf

The Phillies' first losing season since 2002 is sure to bring wholesale changes in the offseason. But who should stay and who should go? Over the next two weeks, we're asking that very question and putting players under the microscope.

Wednesday, we examined Jimmy Rollins (see story), and today we take a look at a beloved ace in the rotation:

Cliff Lee
Position: Left-handed starting pitcher
Status: Two years remaining on five-year, $120 million deal with a vesting option worth $27.5 million for 2016. Option becomes guaranteed with 200 innings pitched in 2015 or 400 innings pitched in 2014-15

Signature game of 2013
Lee had a truly historic month of September.

The lefty struck out 54 batters and walked one in September, becoming the first pitcher in history to strike out 50 or more and walk one or less in a calendar month.

And who could forget his performance on the night of Sept. 16? Lee struck out 14 batters in eight innings of two-run ball to go along with three hits at the plate, including a triple and four RBIs to beat the Marlins, 12-2.

His three hits and four RBIs were career highs and his triple was a career first.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the first time a Phillies pitcher recorded a three-hit, four-RBI game since Phil Collins in 1930. Lee also became the first Phillies pitcher to strike out at least 14 and not walk a batter since Curt Schilling in 1997.

Season as a whole
Where to begin and when to end? As insufferable as the 2013 season was for the Phils, Lee was spectacular once again.

The southpaw led all MLB starting pitchers in strikeout-to-walk ratio (222 K, 32 BB), finished second in the NL in strikeouts, third in innings (222 2/3), fourth in WHIP (1.01) and sixth in ERA (2.87).

And with the sixth-worst run support among baseball’s starting pitchers, Lee still won 14 games.

Lee has pitched 200-plus innings with 200-plus strikeouts in each of his last three seasons with the Phillies.

In 2013, the Phils won their fewest games (73) since 2000, when they went 65-97.

Imagine where they would have finished in 2013 without Lee.

Stay or go
No way you trade Lee — a no-brainer, right?

Yes, but sometimes difficult, unpopular decisions must be made.

Lee is 35 years old and his stock may be at its apex, and not for much longer — even he acknowledged that (see below). If the Phillies can contend over the next two to three years, then Lee should be in red pinstripes through 2016 before taking “it to the house.”

But if not, and the perfect deal comes across, then unfortunately a tough call might have to be made.

What they’re saying …
"I’m getting up there in age. I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home, so I’m running out of opportunities. All I can control is what I can control, and I’m going to do everything I can to help us win. That’s all I know how to do.

"Right now, I don’t [see myself pitching beyond this contract]. There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives.

"I’m financially able to shut it down, so ... that’s how I feel right now. But when the time comes I might look at it differently.

"I also want to finish being good, not struggling and fumbling through at the end. I want to finish strong and take it to the house. Next year, I want to win a World Series, then another one, then another one and take it to the house. That’s what I’m wanting to do."

-- Lee after his final start of the season on Sept. 27

“The best chance we have to be a winning club now and in the future is to have the top of the rotation we have with those two big left-handers (Lee, Cole Hamels). That’s our best chance to win games. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.



"People think we’re going to blow up this team. We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up. There might come a time when we make changes to improve for the future, but we don’t have a reason to blow it up. Boston didn’t blow it up last year. They retooled. That’s the challenge we have whether it’s July 31 or November 1.”

-- Ruben Amaro Jr. in an interview with CSNPhilly.com that published on June 10