The billboard read: "Dear Cliff, You are...this is...I promised myself I wouldn't get choked up. Welcome back. With Love, Philadelphia."
It was Christmas 2010 and the Philly phaithful had just received the phinest, neatly wrapped present under the tree. The present of all presents! A present that made grown men giddy. Ruben Amaro Jr. had finally righted the ship of a trade that never seemed to make sense in the first place. Philly's prodigal son had returned. The dreams of a Halladay, Hamels, Lee rotation could now be reality.
Philadelphia's love affair with Cliff Lee has been passionate, endearing, almost stalker-ish. In late July of 2009 the Phils acquired the Cy Young Award winner just in time for another World Series push. The ace did not dissapoint in the playoffs. Handed the ball in game 1 of the 2009 World Series, Lee pitched a gem. Nine innings of six-hit, zero-earned-run shutout World Series Baseball. The legend was born.
The dominate ace that is Cliff Lee has since fallen to the wayside of the hearts of many Philadelphians. The rotation that was once dubbed "The Greatest in History," has since become a question mark of uncertainity. Amongst the winter talk of Hamel's shoulder, Vanimal traded, and is Doc still Doc, Cliffton Phifer Lee has gotten lost in the shuffle of aces. Which all together may not be a bad thing.
When we think of Cliff Lee's 2012 season we think 13 starts before he phinally got a win, we think horrid run support, we think horrible season. There were hoards of people, in the off-season, calling for Lee to be traded to acquire an outfielder. Lee had become expendable, but why? The Phillies remain a legitimate World Series contender for 2013 because of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee. You still will find it hard pressed to find a more dominate trio of starting pitchers in baseball. You do not trade away an ace of Lee's caliber!
Looking back at Lee's 2012 season it wasn't all that bad if you don't look at the wins and losses (6-9).
Lee finished with a 3.16 era. Ranking Cliff Lee's numbers against NL Cy Young candiates, Lee's 7.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio was by far the best. To put it into conetext, NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey's strikeout-to-walk ration was 4.3. Lee's walk rate at 3.3 was the lowest of the Cy Young candiates. Lee's BAPIP (batting average on balls in play), which measures how many of a batter's balls in play go for hits, was .309. Again the highest, or worst, average among NL Cy Young candidates.
Cliff Lee's welcome home billboard in 2010
Another important stat, which helps to remove factors that are out of a pitchers control, is SIERA, Skil Interactive Earned Run Average. With a 3.0 SIERA Lee again led in this category. Pitchers have a lot of control over a lot of things such as strikeouts, walks, and ground/fly balls. Lee was subject to a Phillies team that was very poor defensively. Missing chunks of time from their top defenders such as Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis and instead having to work with defenders like Mike Fontenot. This impacts the amount of batted balls turned into outs. We have to look deeper past wins and losses to really determine the success of a pitcher. Lee was clearly, as were the rest of Phillies pitchers, a victim of a horrid defense, and it showed up in his wins and losses.
So despite a "rough" 2012 season going 6-9 and not winning hist first game until July 4th let's not forget the ace that has our hearts. From his love for Philadelphia to his sprint off the pitching mound, Cliff Lee is a phan favorite. Lee is still one of the best pitchers in all of baseball on one of the best rotations. The lefty is poised for a Cy Young caliber 2013.