cliff_lee_agr_v_pat_2010

Is being aggressive the best way to get to Cliff Lee?

San Francisco Giants' Freddy Sanchez (L) celebrates scoring a run next to Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee (R) in the fifth inning during Game 1 of Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco October 27, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

 

After Cliff Lee got shelled by the Giants this past Wednesday in game one of the World Series, I received an interesting question via Twitter:

“Any chance of some analysis of Lee vs “free swinging teams” like the giants and Lee vs “taking pitches teams” like yankees/rays?”

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My initial reaction was that there was no correlation and that it was just a bad night for Lee. I still believe Lee was off of his game for one reason or another, but the question was worth looking into regardless.
 
Using swing percentage (available at FanGraphs.com) and opponent splits (available at Baseball-Reference.com), I charted a few stats based on the most aggressive teams and the most patient teams that Lee faced in 2010 and 2009.
 
2010
 
First of all, the Giants have been among the most aggressive group of hitters for the past two seasons based on swing percentage, but they were a much different team as the year went along (more on that later). Cliff Lee had tremendous success against aggressive teams in 2010, allowing only 20 earned runs in 72 innings while posing an insanely good 19/1 K/BB ratio. Against some of the most patient teams in the league, Lee still was very successful, posting almost eight strikeouts to every walk, but found less success in ERA, which was almost a full run higher than the more aggressive teams combined ERA against.
 
Then we look at 2009…
cliff_lee_agr_v_pat_2009
 
It would seem that Lee had less success against the more aggressive teams in 2009 based on his ERA, but he had a slightly better K/BB rate and actually allowed more hits than innings pitched against the less aggressive teams. Yet another example on how ERA does not paint the best picture of how “successful” a pitcher is or was.
 
In reality, we can’t compare the two years. Lee pitched in both the AL and NL in 2009 and pitched solely in the AL in 2010. Plus, Lee was even better with his command in 2010, walking less than a batter per nine innings, throwing more first pitch strikes and getting hitters to chase more pitches outside the strike-zone.
 
In 2010, Cliff Lee had a ton of success against aggressive offenses. His 58/3 K/BB ratio in 72 innings against aggressive offenses (8.3 K/9, 1.1 BB9) is the key stat. Only the Orioles (out of the most aggressive teams) found success against Lee in 2010, but the two outings he was hurt by them came after his trade to the Rangers. The first was his first start as a Ranger and the second was in late August, when Lee’s back problems were hurting his performances.
 
Three of the Giants most aggressive hitters didn’t face Lee in game one. Pablo Sandoval and Aaron Rowand rode the pine, and Bengie Molina (traded) was the one catching Lee. As a matter of fact, the Giants had transformed into a more patient team as the 2010 season wore on. The addition of Pat Burrell (40.5% Sw%), the emergence of Andres Torres (45% Sw%) and the more frequent starting of Edgar Renteria at shortstop (45.3% Sw%) made the Giants a more patient team for the postseason.
Then again, Lee dominated the extremely patient Yankees in the ALCS.
 
The bottom line is that Lee was simply off his game for game one of the World Series. His location was not as pin-point as it normally is. That could have been a result of the time off between his last start or a slick mound or whatever else could have factored in.
 
Anything can happen in October and the Giants are living proof of that.