Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As Good As Advertised, And Maybe Better

So tonight in Phila-delphia, Cliff Lee conquered one of his few remaining demons on this earth: the Boston Red Sox. In the opening game of an interleague series that many believe to be a World Series preview, Lee dialed up the usual magic: 9 innings, shutout, 4 baserunners, 5 Ks. Against a Boston team that might not be at full speed right now (Mike Cameron, in particular, should not be anyone's idea of a MLB outfielder by now), but isn't exactly a collection of Oakland/Seattle weaklings, he set down the last six in order, never faced more than four batters in an inning (!), and only allowed one man to reach second base. All on 112 pitches, on a night where Phillies manager Charlie Manuel doesn't really know who to go to for a save (Ryan Madson's on the DL, along with Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, so we're on the fourth-string idea of Michael Stutes or Antonio Bastardo now), against a team that's so patient they even managed to bleed out two walks out of Lee. And to think, the man's ERA coming into this game was over 4 against this club.

I won't mention the offense, even though they snuck home five tonight, which is a virtual bonanza in this day, age, and town. (Dom Brown had a night, which is good, seeing as he's still hitting .220. They don't make phenoms the way they used to, folks.) It's also his third straight shutout -- no, seriously -- and the home team is now 50-30. For Lee, the scoreless inning streak is now at 32, which is to say halfway to immortality, or something, and he's 5-0 with an 0.21 ERA in June. Even in the modern dead ball era, that's absurd.

Say this for Phillies Fan as well; they do appreciate the man. He's probably the most popular player in town right now, since unlike the position players, he's doing everything that's been asked of him, and unlike Roy Halladay, he told the Yankees to go pound sand by coming here. And he isn't, at least not by the numbers, the best pitcher on staff. That's still Halladay. And hell, Cole Hamels isn't exactly laying down with his 9-4, 2.49 ERA self, either. Perhaps they slip a bit with Roy Oswalt now on the shelf, but that's not really the point to be made. Rather, it's this.

As good as the Phillies starting staff has been this year -- and isn't it kind of nice when something you predict to be great just is? -- the numbers might not actually do them justice. They might actually be pitching in some poor luck.

No, seriously.

Look at Halladay. In 127.1 IP, he's given up 115 hits and 16 walks, for a WHIP that's *barely* over 1. He's also striking out nearly a batter an inning, with 123 in 127. Considering that he keeps the ball on the ground with only 7 HRs in half a year of work, the 2.40 ERA... is actually, well, a little high. It should probably be closer to 2.

Hamels is nearly the same story. 112 IP, 86 hits, 21 walks -- OK, the WHIP is actually sub-1. Just 6 homers given up, with 108 Ks in those 112 frames. He also obliterates the running game, not that this really has too much impact on your ERA, but hey, when you are shaving fractions, any port in a storm. 2.49 ERA that again, should be closer to 2.

Lee's numbers are only getting this deadly to the white-hot June, but after tonight he's worked 122 IP with 103 H and 27 walks; WHIP is just over 1 and falling fast. 119 Ks in 122 IP, and to think that people used to think this man wasn't going to keep piling up big whiff numbers with ordinary stuff.

Oh, and remember, these guys spend half of their games in a bandbox. Ye gads.

With a strikeout/walk ratio for the three now at 350 Ks to 64 walks -- no, seriously, they average over 5 whiffs for every free pass -- there's nothing fluky about the ERAs. Assuming these guys stay healthy (and as Roy Oswalt's year is showing, no, you should not assume such thing), that rate is going to stay. And maybe even go down. Just totally freaking absurd.

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