Monday, April 28, 2008

From Triple-A To #1 Starter

I knew that Cliff Lee was having a great season (31.2 IP, 11 H, 2 BB, 29 K, 0.28 ERA) but I had no idea how great it's been. Rany Jazayerli at BaseballProspectus looked at Lee's recent stretch of games (vs, OAK: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K - vs. MIN: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K - vs. KCR: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K) and found something amazing:
"On three consecutive occasions Lee has pitched 8 innings or more, allowed no more than 3 hits, walked no more than one batter, and struck out at least 8 batters.

We have game logs going back to 1956, courtesy of Retrosheet and Since 1956, do you know how many pitchers had made three straight starts with 8+ innings, <=3 hits, <=1 walk, and 8+ strikeouts? Here's the list, which I have put in alphabetical order for your convenience: Cliff Lee. Here's that list again, sorted by last name: Lee, Cliff. That's it. Lee's stretch of pitching is unmatched in at least 50 years, and quite possibly ever, when you consider that strikeouts tend to decrease in frequency as you go back in time. Even if you eliminate the strikeout requirement entirely and just look for pitchers with 3 consecutive starts with 8 innings, 3 or fewer hits, and one walk or none, only two pitchers in our database have such a stretch. One is Woodie Fryman, in 1966. The other is Sandy Koufax, in 1963."
Wow. This is one of those things that nobody expected, but makes a big impact on the play-off race.

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