28 Scoreless: Breaking Down Cliff Lee’s Streak

Indians lefty Cliff Lee recently put the finishing touches on an absolutely incredible April. Ironically, the 6 IP, 3 ER, 3K performance on Wednesday night—one many pitchers would love to have—was far and away his worst of the month. He will likely garner AL Pitcher of the Month honors, in unanimous fashion, and rightly so: Anyone who posts a legitimate W-L of 5-0, a 0.96 ERA, 16.0 K/BB, and has surrendered just one home run in 37.2 innings truly deserves any and all recognition.

Oh, and Lee also pitched 28 consecutive scoreless innings.

It began in the fifth inning of his April 13th start and lasted all the way until the seventh inning of Wednesday’s start. Despite this, he did not even get halfway towards Orel Hershiser’s oft-underrated and mind-boggling 59 consecutive scoreless innings record. Seeing as Lee’s effort has come to an end I decided to break everything down and analyze what happened in these innings. Hmm… a summary of Cliff’s streak… wait for it… Cliffsnotes:

Overall Streak Line: 28 IP, 10 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 24 K

Of those 28 innings, 18 were perfect (no baserunners) and 4 more saw Lee face the minimum; in each, singles were erased by double plays.

He allowed 11 runners to reach base and only two found themselves at third base. In the fifth inning on April 24th, Jose Guillen doubled and advanced to third on a wild pitch. With two outs, Lee struck Miguel Olivo out to end the threat. In the fifth inning Wednesday night, Wladimir Balantien reached third before Ichiro Suzuki flied out.

The situation with the highest Leverage Index (1.95) occurred when John Buck led off the ninth inning on April 24th; Buck flied out.

He found himself in eight situations with a Leverage Index of 1.60+ and produced the following results: 4 flyouts, 2 groundouts (1 GIDP), and 2 strikeouts.

His WPA over the course of these four games (31 IP) accounted for 1.72 wins; his WPA during this streak (28 IP) accounted for 1.67 wins.

Using TangoTiger’s Marcel projections I classified those with expected slugging percentages of .445+ as power hitters and under that mark as contact. Against Lee, power hitters went: 5-25, 2B, 4 GIDP, 5 K. Contact hitters went: 5-69, BB, 19 K.

The blog Defensive-Indifference does not think Lee will be able to sustain his current pace and I happen to agree. One of the reasons he is unlikely to continue dominating is that his current BABIP of .195 exceeds expectations based on a line drive frequency of 13.7%; with that frequency it should be closer to .257. Additionally, despite posting a 0.96 ERA, his FIP implies it is closer to the 2.01 mark; still great, but not superhuman. Regardless of what happens from May until September, though, Lee had an absolutely phenomenal opening month.

We hoped you liked reading 28 Scoreless: Breaking Down Cliff Lee’s Streak by Eric Seidman!

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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