The Cleveland Indians entered the season with a a rotation that they felt could be the strength of their ball club. With a dominating lefty and emerging sinkerball right hander, they felt they had found the elusive 1-2 punch that so many teams were looking for. The back of the rotation was less stable as no one really knew what to expect from the guys who didn’t have the same power stuff as the frontline guys.
Well, through the first several weeks, the Indians find themselves being carried by a dominating lefty and an emerging sinkerball right hander, trying to pick up the slack for the rest of the rotation. Interestingly, however, the script has flipped – Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook are ones that are pitching like Cy Young candidates while C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona struggle to find their groove.
Lee, in particular, is having a pretty remarkable beginning to the season. A southpaw with a fastball that sits around 89 and a decent curveball, he’s always been able to get an average amount of swings and misses, but has struggled with inconsistent command. As a flyball pitcher, he’s been prone to giving up the longball as well, and the combination of allowing walks and home runs isn’t really one that leads to consistent success.
So, after a disastrous 2007 season where he lost his rotation spot and found himself in Triple-A, Lee has apparently decided to just stop walking people.
Through 23 innings of work, he’s issued just two free passes. In looking at his Baseball Reference pitch summary data, his strike percentages are essentially unchanged from last year, however. From the raw data, it’s hard to see that Lee is doing anything differently, even though the results are vastly superior. If this early season performance represented a sustainable leap forward, we’d be able to see it in the types of pitches he was throwing. Right now, it looks like Lee’s pretty much throwing like he’s always thrown, but just getting better results from it.
While the Indians have to be happy with how he’s performed, they’d also be wise to not count on the belief that Lee has taken a real step forward, and instead expect his results to begin to more closely match up with his skillset.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.