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.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Peterson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much.