Updated: June 15, 2009, 1:01 PM ET

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Share

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Cliff Lee has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his past 12 starts.

Lee masterful in best start of 2009
For one night, Cy Young was back on the hill.

Cliff Lee, winner of the American League's Cy Young Award last season, shut out the Cardinals on Sunday Night Baseball, tossing seven no-hit innings and finishing with just three hits and two walks while striking out six batters. It was the most impressive outing of a surprisingly good season for the left-hander, and it brings to mind some of his best games during his 2008 standout season.

Going by game score, Lee's 85 on Sunday was beaten only once all of last year -- on April 24 at Kansas City. Only twice in 2008 did he manage a game score of 85.

With Sunday's performance, Lee's ERA dropped to 2.88, only 0.34 higher than last year's number. That means only two key rotisserie statistics separate his 2008 and 2009 seasons: wins and WHIP. After winning a major league-high 22 games last season, Lee finds himself on pace for 10 this year. His WHIP, 1.11 in 2008, currently stands at 1.33.

Speaking of wins, run support has been far more problematic for Lee in 2009. His Indians have averaged 3.6 runs per game in his starts, after averaging 5.6 per turn for him in 2008. His team has also scored zero or one runs on six of 14 Lee starts in 2009, after only doing so once in his 35 starts in 2008. Cleveland's non-contender status diminishes the chances Lee's run support will return to last year's levels, but since the team has averaged 5.1 runs per game overall this season, expect at least a little better fortune for him looking forward. Besides, it's not entirely unlikely he'll be a trade candidate next month. Perhaps, he will be headed to a team that will instantly cure his problems in the win column.

As for WHIP, that can all be traced to Lee's number of hits, not walks. His command numbers are comparable to last year's, but entering Sunday's start, his BABIP was .352, up from .302 in 2008 and .299 for his career. Yes, Lee has surrendered more line drives than normal -- 23.7 percent of his batted balls -- but poor fortune has contributed.

A statistic that should encourage Lee's owners (or those looking to trade for him): After his two so-so starts to begin the year, he has a 2.07 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in his last 12.

I say go get 'em.

Previous editions: June 14: Peavy out for a while | June 12: Who will Smoltz replace?

News, Notes and Box Score Bits
• Along similar lines to Lee, and the topic of good and bad luck, Matt Cain's fortunes sure have changed since last season. The right-hander surpassed his 2008 win total of eight (in 34 starts) by winning his ninth game in 13 starts this season. The amazing thing is that after finishing dead last in terms of run support in 2008 -- the Giants averaged 3.1 runs per game for him -- Cain has seen his Giants averaging 5.8 runs per start for him this year. That goes to show how these things can even out over time. Maybe, this is just Cain's year.

Brad Bergesen registered his fourth consecutive quality start, and he did it by completing his first game at the big-league level. The difference between this performance and the three before was that he generated as many fly-ball outs as ground-ball outs at 12. Bergesen has been somewhat the product of his recent favorable schedule, but that keeps him AL-only worthy, especially for as long as he can maintain his 2.1 walks per nine innings and 2.1 ground outs per fly out.

• Only hours after Johan Santana turned in the worst start of his big-league career -- a three-inning, nine-run drubbing at the hands of the Yankees -- Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen offered his hypothesis for the left-hander's problems to the New York Daily News. He said Santana's problems might be related to a blister on his left middle finger. Warthen believes Santana might have unintentionally altered the grip on his four-seam fastball, hurting the pitch's effectiveness. Even if that's the root of the problem, it's nothing fantasy owners should sweat, and it's also possible this is merely the inevitable down period even the best pitchers tend to endure at some point during the long year.

• For the first time since June 27, 2008, Corey Hart hit two home runs in a game, clubbing both off White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle. With that, he finished the weekend's interleague series 5-for-11 with one double, one triple, two homers and five RBIs. Perhaps, he's starting to figure things out, but another possibility is American League pitchers haven't caught on to the holes in his swing to the extent that National League pitchers have. Adding to that point, Hart is a .304 hitter with 13 home runs and a .985 OPS in 42 career interleague games. Enjoy this while it lasts.

• Could we be getting some clarity in the Rays' bullpen? J.P. Howell notched his third save of the season on Sunday, and he now hasn't allowed an earned run in 11 1/3 innings in his past 11 appearances, limiting opponents to a .079 batting average. He's the most effective reliever in the Tampa Bay bullpen right now, and has pitched the ninth inning in seven of his past eight games, a sure sign Joe Maddon trusts him. Already a trusty fantasy option in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, expect Howell's ownership to soar in the next few days.

A.J. Burnett put forth his best start of the season, a seven-shutout-inning, four-hit, eight-strikeout performance against the Mets. That helps alleviate concerns about his miserable start in Boston, one made on six days' rest. Still, Burnett walked four batters, giving him an average of 5.2 walks per nine innings in his past 11 starts. That's not Burnett-like. He averaged 3.5 walks per nine in his 2008 standout season, meaning he might not have fully cured his problems yet.

• The Mariners have decided to continue the Brandon Morrow-back-to-the-rotation experiment at the big-league level, according to the Seattle Times. The right-hander, who walked four batters in three innings in his spot start Saturday, will pitch again Thursday in San Diego. Don't be fooled by the favorable-on-paper matchup. With the Mariners toying with Morrow's role as frequently as they have in his professional career and him struggling with his command to the extent he has, this story might have a sour ending.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

Player Spotlight
Hitter of the night
Ronny Paulino, Marlins
Digging deep, Paulino is the kind of guy matchup seekers love. He is someone to spot in on when the Marlins are slated to face a middling-to-poor lefty starter. Not to knock Brian Tallet, his Sunday performance was more a case of a guy who didn't have it, but Paulino belted two homers and went 4-for-5 against Tallet and his team. For the season, Paulino is now batting .310 with an .848 OPS versus lefties.
Pitcher of the night
Jered Weaver, Angels
Weaver has enjoyed a remarkable breakout season, but Sunday was the first time in his 90 career big-league starts he tossed a shutout. Sure, it came against the Padres, and everyone dismisses big pitching efforts against the Padres, but the right-hander now has a 1.53 ERA in his past eight starts, a stretch that included matchups against the Red Sox, Rangers and Dodgers.
Stat of the night: 50
Derek Jeter loves interleague play. With his 4-for-4 performance on Sunday, Jeter has reached base in 50 consecutive interleague contests, a major-league record. He's a .340 career hitter in interleague play, and has his season batting average is up to .310. So much for the notion that he's in the twilight of his career!
Notable Transactions
• After letting him attempt to work through his shoulder problems for the past 10 days, the Rangers finally returned Frank Francisco to the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. It's odd timing, seeing as the team seemed to want to wait for the results of his 32-pitch bullpen session on Sunday, which the team reported went well. The Rangers added they want Francisco to throw long toss and have another bullpen session on Tuesday before putting him on a rehabilitation assignment That action will sidelined Francisco until at least Friday, the first day he'd be eligible to be activated. It seems the team just waited longer than necessary on its closer; now the Rangers are taking the conservative approach. Expect C.J. Wilson to spend at least this week as Texas' closer. Warner Madrigal, recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City, will take Francisco's roster spot.

• Speaking of players trying to play with pain, Coco Crisp succumbed Sunday to the 15-day DL. The Royals recalled Tug Hulett from Triple-A Omaha to take his place. Crisp has a rotator cuff strain that probably contributed to his .164 batting average with one extra-base hit in his past 17 games. It's unclear whether he'll require more than the minimum stay. Manager Trey Hillman told the Kansas City Star that Mitch Maier will get more playing time in center field in Crisp's absence.

• Don't read Travis Buck's Sunday activation from the DL and trip to Triple-A Sacramento as a knock on his future with the Athletics. Oakland heads out for six games in National League parks this week, without Buck's help in the designated hitter spot. Jack Cust will more than likely play right field, Buck's normal position with the team. There's a good chance Buck will be promoted once the team returns home, but at least this way he can play regularly in the minors this week.

Click here for all of the latest MLB transactions.

They Said It
Phil (Grand Rapids): What is the latest on Aramis Ramirez? I heard he has started "baseball activitives," and is ahead of schedule. Do you think he makes an impact when he returns?

Stephania Bell: You're right. He has. But they start very, very slowly with light bat swings, soft catches. It's quite a distance from there to return to play. What's hard to know from a distance is whether he has any instability in that shoulder as a result of injury. If he has lingering instability, it may show up at the plate -- but we may not really know how it affects him until he returns. In other words, he may get well enough to return, but then struggle. This is a tough injury and the only thing you can do is keep an eye on how he's faring as his activity progresses to try to catch clues. That's what we're here for.
-- Full chat transcript

Deuser (Chicago): Frustrated lately with Kershaw and Scherzer. How do you think they'll do down the stretch?

Tristan H. Cockcroft: I have a good amount of faith in Clayton Kershaw, as I've seen enough in his starts to like that he might finally put it together after the break. It's a chance I'd take. Good K rate at the very least, and won't kill you. Nothing against Max Scherzer, but he just isn't working deep enough into games and there's not much win potential there. I keep feeling like the closer role is his ultimate landing spot, though I doubt it happens this year.
-- Full chat transcript
Monday's fantasy chat schedule:
Christopher Harris, 11 a.m. ET
Matthew Berry, 3 p.m. ET
On The Farm
• Hot on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery, Sergio Mitre tossed a second-straight, quality start for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, going seven innings and allowing two runs on seven hits. Between two rehabilitation starts in Triple-A ball and two for Class A Tampa, Mitre has a 2.01 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. As has been Mitre's history, the right-hander has a 2.2-to-1 ground out-to-air out ratio, and left-handers are batting .421 against him, 347 points higher than right-handers. He's a classic matchups-type pitcher, but that's only when he's healthy. If he stays healthy, Mitre might be ready to help a big-league club by the All-Star break. The problem is, as a member of the Yankees' farm system, he stands little chance at a rotation spot. Barring several devastating injuries to Yankees starters, Mitre would need to be released to get a chance to start somewhere.

• Coming off a seven-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout performance on June 8, James McDonald turned in an even more dominating effort for Triple-A Albuquerque on Sunday, tossing seven innings of shutout, two-hit baseball while striking out 13. Both of those outings came against bottom-three teams in the Pacific Coast League, Oklahoma City and Round Rock, but they're a step in the right direction. McDonald now has a 3.26 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in six starts since being demoted, and he remains a promising prospect. Given another chance later this year, he might have some NL-only value because of his strikeout potential.

Looking Ahead
• It's a quiet day with only two games on the schedule -- Angels at Giants and Brewers at Indians. John Lackey is the marquee pitcher, but even he comes with some flaws, coming off that nine-run (eight earned), 11-hit, five-inning nightmare in Tampa Bay this past Wednesday. Still, I see his 11-3 record, 2.59 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 22 career interleague games (21 starts), and give him a definite thumbs-up.

• On a day thin on spot-start options, Robb Quinlan might be worth a whirl. He's 7-for-22 (.318 BA) with three home runs in his career against Barry Zito, and tends to squeak in a start at first or third base against most left-handers. Because Chone Figgins is a .190 hitter in 42 career at-bats versus Zito, he might be the one to sit for Quinlan.

• For more on Monday's games, check out the Daily Notes.