Cliff Lee Has Actually Fared Well After High Pitch Count Outings

Cliff Lee Has Actually Fared Well After High Pitch Count Outings

Guest post by Matt Hammond

Cliff Lee will face a former
team that traded him away for the first time tonight on their home turf when he
takes on the Indians in Cleveland, the team and city he won a Cy Young with
earlier in his career. He's got the attitude you'd expect:

“It’s another outing,” Lee said in the
Phillies’ dugout Tuesday afternoon. “I guess the only thing that
makes it different is that I played here and they traded me away.”

It’s
totally possible that Lee eats shards of metal for breakfast. Don’t know.

But
some of his machine-like tendencies are clearer to see.

For
the Phillies, who have to be wondering how he’ll do after getting 120 hours to
recover from tossing 122 pitches last Thursday in the finale vs. the Pittsburgh
Pirates, one of them bodes well. 

Ten
times in Lee’s career has he taken on such a 122-pitch load. (All of them,
incidentally, were as a Phillie under manager Charlie Manuel.) His ERA in those
starts is 1.61.

His ERA in the following starts
is 1.59.

For
those games after: Lee’s gone 7-0. Three complete games, two of them complete
game shutouts. One was another 122-pitch start. Only once lasted fewer than six
innings (four, because he had to be yanked after a rain delay). Only two others
went fewer than eight innings. Never once did he surrender more than four runs.
Seven of nine times he held opponents to two runs or fewer.

Thinking
Lee’s good for tonight.

On
the year: Lee’s been basically everything that he was last year, only with more
wins and fewer home runs. The difference has been with his cutter. Of his 26
home runs last year, nine were off cutters, the most of any pitch. This year,
he’s yet to allow one on it. Most everything about the pitch is the same: same
velocity, same movement. Only, a better opp BA (.226 to .293) and no homers.

Overall,
Lee’s somehow kept batters in the yard this year better despite putting the
ball in the air markedly more. His GB% has dipped considerably (from 45.0% to
37.0%) with his FB% (36.9% to 41.7%) making up the difference. Yet, Lee’s HR/FB
is down (from 11.8% to 6.7%). In all, only three home runs sprinkled
across five starts.

We’ll
see if that holds up against the seven-bombs-in-a-game Indians.

However
he does, Lee’s going to be aggressive doing it. He’s tied for fourth in
baseball with a 51.0% swing rate this year, and not because he’s lucked out
thanks to guys chasing (30.7 O-Swing%). Lee’s even allowed contact, yet
maintained success with a relatively sustainable .276 BABIP.

He’s
also got the seventh-most vertical movement on his curveball (-10.1), which is
cool and stuff.

Four
of five of Lee’s starts so far have been for quality. The exception? His
five-runs-in-five-innings outing against the Cardinals, when he (gasp!) walked
three whole batters in a 5-0 loss on Apr. 20. It was rare, and Lee kept it that
way, following up with vintage stuff against the Pirates, albeit in a loss.

One
other cool game note: Lee’s never faced Cleveland, where he won his AL Cy Young
in 2008. It’s the last MLB franchise he’s yet to oppose. He has seen some
current players, though. Drew Stubbs is 5 for 11 against him with five
strikeouts. Nick Swisher (8 for 33, 2 HR, 3 RBI) and Mike Aviles (5 for 22, HR,
2 RBI), Jason Giambi (3 for 10, HR, 2B) have done OK with varying chances.

*

7:05
start. Delmon Young gets the DH role again. The Phils look for the split before
returning home to face the Fish on Thursday in Philadelphia.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).