On any other team a former Cy Young winner would be the undisputed ace and the teams starter on Opening Day. But this is not any ordinary rotation. Clifton Phifer Lee made the decision to take less money and join what has the talent to be one of the greatest rotations in the history of baseball. It’s hard to find a word to describe what type of pitcher Lee is, his stuff isn’t overpowering but he has pin point accuracy with all of his pitches. Lee is the best lefty in the game, is one of the best pitchers in all off baseball and is #5 on BLN’s 2011 Best Athlete in Philadelphia.
The start of Cliff Lee’s career was anything but smooth. Before he was even able to get to the big leagues with the team who drafted him, he was dealt from the Expos to the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League debut on September 15, 2002. His career hit rock bottom in 2007 when sent to the minors after being booed off the mind in a start against the Boston Red Sox. He later joined the team as a September call up, but he only appeared in a few games pitching out of the pen. Then in 2008 Lee jumped onto the radar of MLB fans which a magnificent season. Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA.
At the deadline during the 2009 season, Roy Halladay was the best pitcher available. Due to the high demands of the Blue Jays, the Phillies had to “settle” on the former Cy Young winner. Lee was simply amazing in his debut as a Phillie. He took a no hitter into the 6th and dominated the Giants the entire game. Lee pitched a complete game allowing only 1 run on 4 hits. But that was just the start for Lee. In his first 5 games as a Phillie, he went 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA! Philadelphia’s man crush on Lee seemed to reach its peak in Game One of the 2009 World Series. Lee was facing the most storied franchise in baseball history and he thrived in the spotlight. His quiet arrogance as he caught a popup over the mound and snagged a comebacker behind his back is something that you have to love. The Yankee hitters went down as quickly as Lee runs off the mound. When the game was over, Lee had pitched a complete game only allowing 1 unearned run on 6 hits while walking none! He also struck out 10 New York batters. The 2009 season didn’t end like we all thought it would but Lee’s post season performance was one for the ages.
After the 2009 Season the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays and in a separate deal dealt Lee to the Seattle Mariners. The reasons for dealing Lee was said to be to recoup some prospects but many believed it was a financial decision. Lee was again dealt at the deadline to the Texas Rangers and was a major factor in their American League Championship. At the start of free agency this past off-season, Cliff Lee was the prize on the market and a player that all 30 teams would love to have. But as the free agency process got to its later stages, it seemed as though he had narrowed his list to two teams. It was going to be either the Texas Rangers or the New York Yankees. There were also whispers of a “mystery team” being involved but no one could put a finger on which team it was.
December 13, 2010 started off just like any other day for most Phillies phans. Around mid afternoon Philly native and ESPN writer Jayson Stark mentioned that he had a gut pheeling that the Phillies were the “mystery team.” As the night went along the momentum seemed to increase. There was an incredible Monday night Football Game on the TV but I like most phans didn’t care whether the Ravens or Texans won the game. I had multiple tabs open in my browser and felt like I was refreshing the Twitter Feed every 10 seconds. Then I read the news that made me pheel like a kid on Christmas Morning! CLIFF LEE WAS A PHILLIE!!!! I honestly didn’t know how to react, Lee returning was something that I had considered but I never really thought it was possible.
It can be hard to pinpoint why Cliff Lee is such a successful pitcher. He will never light up the radar gun like Ubaldo Jimenez or Stephen Strasburg. The reason for his success is because he can throw any pitch, in any location, in any situation. I have heard some experts say that Lee could be called the Left Handed Roy Halladay. While they are far from the same pitcher, they both have the similar approaches to the game. Lee has 5 pitches in his arsenal. He throws a four seam fastball that sits in the lower 90’s, a cutter, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball. According to fangraphs.com Lee threw either the 4 seem fastball or the Cutter 83.4% of the time last season. He also has a WAR(wins above replacement) of 7.2, 6.6 and 7.1 over the last 3 seasons.
It’s hard to imagine the panic that would be sweeping through Phillies Nation if Lee had not been signed during the offseason. Even with the uncertainty with Chase and the other injuries during the spring, I find myself very confident heading into the season. I just sit back and smile and imagine how good the rotation could be. In virtually every game the Phillies play this season, they will have the better pitcher. Clifton is back on the team he never wanted to leave in the first place and Philadelphia couldn’t’ be happier to have him back! Opening Day is going to be as special has it is every year but the game the following day will be just as special, as Philadelphia’s lost son will phinally return home! Cliff Lee’s superb pitching makes him one of the best in the game and earns him a spot at #5 on our countdown!