If Kevin Youkilis is the “Greek God of Walks,” does that make Cliff Lee his mortal enemy? It’s an interesting query to ponder, considering Cliff Lee’s complete refusal to walk batters this season. At this pace, Lee is set to shatter the single season record for K/BB ratio. Given that the record for highest K/BB isn’t as universally celebrated as the single season home run or RBI leaders, let’s take a closer look at Cliff Lee’s historic season.
The current record holder in K/BB rate is Bret Saberhagen, who posted a K/BB rate of 11.00 over 24 starts in 1994. By comparison, in 13 starts this season Cliff Lee’s current K/BB rate sits at 14.83. While the list of K/BB leaders is littered with players from the 1800s, recent players on the list include Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Ben Sheets, and Carlos Silva. Since it’s difficult to compare players from the 1800s with players today, let’s take a look at how Lee stacks up against the recent control freaks.
Player GS K/BB K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR WAR/GS
Cliff Lee 14 15.17 7.27 0.48 2.58 3.8 0.27
Bret Saberhagen 24 11.00 7.26 0.66 2.76 5.2 0.21
Curt Schilling 35 9.58 10.97 1.15 2.40 9.7 0.27
Pedro Martinez '99 29 8.46 13.20 1.56 1.39 12.1 0.42
Pedro Martinez '00 29 8.88 11.78 1.33 2.17 10.1 0.35
Ben Sheets 34 8.25 10.03 1.22 2.65 8.0 0.24
Carlos Silva 27 7.89 3.39 0.43 4.18 3.0 0.11
Greg Maddux 33 8.85 6.85 0.77 2.43 8.2 0.25
A quick look at the table reveals the true dominance of Cliff Lee this season. On a per start basis, Lee is set to post a better WAR than every pitcher on the list except Pedro Martinez. While WAR/GS is a crude way to predict Lee’s WAR going forward, it does tell us how incredible his performance has been in the first half for the Mariners/Rangers. It’s also worth noting that even though he struggled in his Rangers debut, Lee did not give up a walk, increasing his K/BB rate while decreasing his overall BB/9 on the season. Despite a K/9 rate in line with Saberhagen, Lee is on pace to best Saberhagen in every single category in the table. Outside of the big strikeout guys (Schilling and Martinez), Lee may actually outproduce every other player in the table.
Even though K/BB leader isn’t a highly distinguished title, it’s certainly a sign of a player’s dominance in a particular season. No pitcher in the history of baseball has shown the amount of control Lee has exhibited this season. Since Lee’s strikeout rates are only above-average, you might expect batters to make a lot of contact against Lee, leading to more hits and a higher WHIP. This hasn’t been a normal season for Lee, however. The lefty has posted a WHIP of 0.95 this season, the top mark in the league. Some of that can be attributed to luck, but his current BABIP of .291 is actually fairly close to his career average of .305. With the recent trade, however, it’s going to be tough for Lee to match or improve on his numbers going forward. Leaving Safeco (and the Mariners defense) and moving to Texas will affect Lee’s numbers slightly. Despite that move, Lee still has a chance to complete one of the finest seasons by a pitcher. Even if Kevin Youkilis is Cliff Lee’s mortal enemy, I think it’s safe to say that every hitter despises Lee, especially this season.
*This article was originally written for FoulPole2FoulPole.com.