Top 100 Indians: #59 Cliff Lee

Christian Petersen

Not sure if I should even proceed with #59 since he won’t read this ….

Clifton Phifer Lee

Starting Pitcher, 2002-2009

Height: 6'3" Weight: 205 lbs

Throws: Left; Bats: Left

How Acquired: Trade, June 27, 2002: Traded with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens by the Montreal Expos for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew

Left Via: Trade, July 29, 2009: Traded with Ben Francisco to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp (minors)

Cliff (not to be confused with Clifford Walker, a catcher in the 1920s) originated from Benton, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock. He gained the reputation of being very competitive child, taking his defeats out on his friends and family. This would still be obvious come his time with the Indians). He was also a bit cocky by showing up opponents in his high school days.

Cliff ended up being drafted in the 8th round in 1997 by the Florida Marlins following his senior year of high school, but a late season injury caused him to put off the minor leagues. He instead enrolled at Meridian Community College in Mississippi, which had one of the better juco baseball programs in the area.

The next year, Cliff toned down his competitiveness a bit, and this time he was drafted in the 20th round by the Baltimore Orioles. Since his stock had fallen and he already had a scholarship offer from the University of Arkansas, Cliff again bypassed going pro, pitching a second season with Meridian before moving off to Fayetteville for his junior season of eligibility. This time, he was drafted a 4th round pick by the Expos in 2000. As the Razorbacks were not expected to do much in his senior season and as he had gotten engaged to his childhood sweetheart, he decided to sign with Montreal.

Interestingly enough, after signing, Lee moved to another Fayetteville, this time in North Carolina to play for the Cape Fear Crocs, the Expos A ball team in the South Atlantic League. His ERA was pretty atrocious, 5.24, but in 11 starts he only allowed one homer and stuck out 63, thus earning him a bump up to A+ in 2001 with the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League. His ERA dropped to 2.79 and his BB rate dropped almost in half to 3.8/9 while still maintaining a decent K rate of 10.6/9 in 20 starts.

Proceeding up to the next rung in 2002, the Harrisburg Senators (AA) of the Eastern League, Lee would again show his mettle with a 10,9 K rate, a 2.4 BB rate and a fantastic 0.973 WHIP. This would get the notice of Shapiro and company, and Lee would be included as a piece of the famous Bartolo Colon deal. He made 3 starts for Akron and another 8 for Buffalo after the deal, but his numbers ballooned somewhat. Cleveland would get him his first cup of coffee in 2002 as well, two decent September starts. His overall superb season garnered him the #30 prospect for Baseball America heading into the 2003 season.

He bounced around quite a bit in 2003, making 1 start in Kinston, 2 in Akron, 11 in Buffalo and 9 in Cleveland while also missing some time for an abdominal strain (spoiler alert!). Lee stuck with the Tribe in 2004 after a dominant April/May, 5-0 with a 2.86 ERA in 10 starts. But the rest of 2004 was fairly disastrous as his final numbers for 2004 were a WHIP of 1.503 and a 5.43 ERA (80 ERA+) in 33 starts and a glove tossed 20 rows deep into the stands. In 2005 he had his first good MLB season, 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA (111 ERA+), 202 IP in 32 starts and finishing 4th in Cy Young voting. This earned him a contract extension from the front office in mid-2006, taking him through 2009 with a club team option in 2010 as neither side wanted to go to arbitration.

He regressed somewhat in 2006 (102 ERA+) and thoroughly imploded in 2007 (72 ERA+) after suffering another abdominal strain in spring training. Due to his poor year, he was optioned to AAA in late July right after tipping his hat to the crowd while being booed for his third straight start with 7 earned runs. He was recalled when the rosters expanded in September and made four relief appearances, but he would be left off the playoff roster that year.

Being left off the playoff roster was the impetus for his dominant turnaround in 2008. He started the year 12-2 and was the AL starter in the All-Star game. He finished the year at 22-3, 2.54 ERA (168 ERA+) and a fantastic 5.00 KK/BB rate in 31 starts. This extraordinary year might not be the best ever for Cleveland, but it is definitely Top 5. Cliff won the Cy Young this time going away but in doing so, effectively priced himself out of the Cleveland's future plans. After Sabathia left at the trade deadline in 2008, the likelihood of signing Lee long term was close to nil and he was dealt with Ben Francisco to the Phillies for prospects Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Jason Knapp at the July trading deadline in 2009.

Thus started Lee's trading odyssey. He finished off the 2009 season by leading the Phillies to the World Series where he would notch both of their wins in a 6 game loss to the Yankees, with one of his wins being against former teammate Sabathia in Game 1. After the season, the Phillies worked out a deal with the Blue Jays to get Roy Halladay and felt that Lee still had great value on the market. They sent him to the Mariners for Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and JC Ramirez.

The Mariners had hoped to contend with Lee in 2010, but were hopelessly in last place by the end of June even with Lee back to his Cy Young stats of 8-3, 2.34 ERA (168 ERA+) and 0.945 WHIP in 13 starts (The Mariners also had Felix Hernandez at the time). With an expiring contract, off he went to the Rangers on July 9th with Mark Lowe for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson. I am not sure, but being traded three times in less than a calendar year for 11 prospects has to be close to a record.

His numbers weren't as good in Arlington, but they made it to the World Series where he lost both of his starts and the Rangers lost in 5 games to the Giants. He still managed a 7th place finish in Cy Young voting and led the AL with 7 complete games, a 1.003 WHIP, a 0.8 BB/9 IP and a supernatural 10.28 K/BB rate. After being granted free agency, he returned to the Phillies in 2011 to form one of the better rotations ever assembled (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt). Lee was 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA (160 ERA+) in 32 starts, 6 being shutouts. He finished 3rd in Cy Young voting and 15th in MVP voting. Alas, the Phillies lost to the Cardinals in the Division Series denying him a third straight trip to the World Series. Lee was a bit more mortal in 2012, 6-9, 3.16 ERA (127 ERA+) in 30 starts, but led the league again in BB/9 IP (1.2) and in K/BB (7.39). His current contract runs through 2015 with a 2016 option.

Sources

Wikipedia, JockBio.com

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO HBP BK WP BF ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB Awards
2002 23 CLE 0 1 .000 1.74 2 2 0 0 0 0 10.1 6 2 2 0 8 1 6 0 1 0 44 260 1.355 5.2 0.0 7.0 5.2 0.75
2003 24 CLE 3 3 .500 3.61 9 9 0 0 0 0 52.1 41 28 21 7 20 1 44 2 0 3 210 122 1.166 7.1 1.2 3.4 7.6 2.20
2004 25 CLE 14 8 .636 5.43 33 33 0 0 0 0 179.0 188 113 108 30 81 1 161 11 0 6 802 80 1.503 9.5 1.5 4.1 8.1 1.99
2005 26 CLE 18 5 .783 3.79 32 32 0 1 0 0 202.0 194 91 85 22 52 1 143 0 0 4 838 111 1.218 8.6 1.0 2.3 6.4 2.75 CYA-4
2006 27 CLE 14 11 .560 4.40 33 33 0 1 0 0 200.2 224 114 98 29 58 3 129 8 0 3 882 102 1.405 10.0 1.3 2.6 5.8 2.22
2007 28 CLE 5 8 .385 6.29 20 16 1 1 0 0 97.1 112 73 68 17 36 1 66 7 0 5 443 72 1.521 10.4 1.6 3.3 6.1 1.83
2008 29 CLE 22 3 .880 2.54 31 31 0 4 2 0 223.1 214 68 63 12 34 1 170 5 0 4 891 167 1.110 8.6 0.5 1.4 6.9 5.00 AS,CYA-1,MVP-12
2009 30 CLE 7 9 .438 3.14 22 22 0 3 1 0 152.0 165 53 53 10 33 1 107 3 0 6 641 135 1.303 9.8 0.6 2.0 6.3 3.24
CLE (8 yrs) 83 48 .634 4.01 182 178 1 10 3 0 1117.0 1144 542 498 127 322 10 826 36 1 31 4751 108 1.312 9.2 1.0 2.6 6.7 2.57
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/4/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

AL All-Star: 2008

AL Cy Young: 1st, 2008; 4th, 2005

AL MVP: 12th, 2008

AL Comeback Player of the Year: 2008

AL WAR: 4th, 2008-6.4

AL WAR Pitchers: 1st, 2008-6.5

AL ERA: 1st, 2008-2.54

AL Wins: 1st, 2008-22; 2nd, 2005-18; 8th, 2004-14

AL W/L Percentage: 1st, 2008-.880; 1st, 2005-.783; 8th, 2004-.636

AL WHIP: 2nd, 2008-1.110

AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 1st, 2008-1.370

AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 4th, 2004-8.095

AL Innings: 2nd, 2008-223.1

AL Strikeouts: 9th, 2008-170

AL Games Started: 6th, 2006-33; 8th, 2004-33

AL Complete Games: 2nd, 2008-4; 5th, 2009-3

AL Shutouts: 1st, 2008-2; 7th, 2009-1

AL Home Runs: 8th, 2006-29

AL Bases on Balls: 7th, 2004-81

AL Hits: 9th, 2008-214

AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 3rd, 2008-5.000

AL Home Runs/9 IP: 1st, 2008-0.484

AL Hit By Pitch: 9th, 2004-11

AL Adjusted Era+: 1st, 2008-167

AL Win Probability Added: 1st, 2008-5.9

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 26th WAR Pitchers (14.8)
  • 18th Wins (83)
  • 5th W/L Percentage (.634)
  • 37th WHIP (1.312)
  • 16th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.594)
  • 11th Strikeouts/9 IP (6.655)
  • 30th Innings Pitched (1117.0)
  • 15th Strikeouts (826)
  • 17th Games Started (178)
  • 10th Home Runs (127)
  • 41st Bases on Balls (322)
  • 26th Hits (1144)
  • 3rd Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (2.565)
  • t-40th Losses (48)
  • t-23rd Wild Pitches (31)
  • t-18th Hit By Pitch (36)
  • t-35th ERA+ (108)
  • 14th Win Probability Added (7.6)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-30th Pitching WAR (6.5, 2008)
  • t-24th Wins (22, 2008)
  • 3rd W/L Percentage (.880, 2008)
  • t-9th W/L Percentage (.783, 2005)
  • t-42nd WHIP (1.110, 2008)
  • 11th Bases on Balls/9 IP (1.370, 2008)
  • 28th Strikeouts/9 IP (8.095, 2004)
  • t-40th Strikeouts (170, 2008)
  • t-12th Home Runs (30, 2004)
  • t-16th Home Runs (29, 2006)
  • 5th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (5.000, 2008)
  • 19th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (3.242, 2009)
  • 40th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (2.750, 2005)
  • t-25th Hit By Pitch (11, 2004)
  • 16th ERA+ (167, 2008)
  • 6th Win Probability Added (5.9, 2008)
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