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Cliff Lee has completed a third of his starts

Posted by Andy on August 18, 2010

Cliff Lee now has 7 complete games in 21 starts. Click through for the list of most recent pitchers to complete a third of their starts in a season.

Here are the guys to do it in the last 20 years (minimum 20 starts):

Rk Player Year GS CG
1 Cliff Lee 2010 21 7
2 Mark Mulder 2003 26 9
3 Randy Johnson 1999 35 12
4 Curt Schilling 1999 24 8
5 Curt Schilling 1998 35 15
6 Pedro Martinez 1997 31 13
7 Greg Maddux 1995 28 10
8 Randy Johnson 1994 23 9
9 Greg Maddux 1994 25 10
10 Kevin Brown 1993 34 12
11 Chuck Finley 1993 35 13
12 Roger Clemens 1992 32 11
13 Jack McDowell 1992 34 13
14 Terry Mulholland 1992 32 12
15 Curt Schilling 1992 26 10
16 Roger Clemens 1991 35 13
17 Jack McDowell 1991 35 15
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/18/2010.

Hmm, hasn't happened often since the Steroids Era started.

I'd like to do an AL Cy Young poll. Who should I include? I have Lee, Price, Buchholz, Lester, Sabathia, and Pavano...any other nominees?

48 Responses to “Cliff Lee has completed a third of his starts”

  1. Ben Says:

    Don't forget Felix Hernandez. He's tops in IP, 2nd in strikeouts, 3rd in ERA, and is 4th in FIP and xFIP. His 8-10 record is not really his fault given that Seattle's offense could easily be replaced with the Sunnydale retirement home all-stars and no one would notice a difference.

  2. Evan Says:

    Seems like Trevor Cahill has done enough to be included in the poll.

  3. da HOOK Says:

    And to think that 10 CG used to be the requirement for the ERA title.

  4. JR Says:

    Liriano, Weaver and Mariano Rivera should be considered.

    Evan, I agree on Cahill, he has been fantastic. His batting average against is .199, sick

    Ben, King Felix is good, but I can't vote for a guy who has a losing record.

  5. Dave V. Says:

    Mariano Rivera for sure.

  6. JeffW Says:


    Felix is not losing on merit, that's for sure. He's been rattled a few times this years, but should have a bunch more wins.

    They also still treat him with kid gloves sometimes, or he'd certainly have more CGs. He hates to come out of games.

    As far as the thread topic is concerned: Bully for Lee!

    No reason in my mind why he shouldn't. He does all the right things. He economizes his pitches well, hardly ever walks anyone. He's been dominant.

    Might we see a trend where the CGs gradually rise overall, as the era of steroids fades into the past?

  7. Andy Says:

    I think CGs, and lack thereof, are contagious. When a few pitchers start throwing a bunch of completes games, I think other pitchers say to themselves--I'm as good as he is, I'm gonna finish my games too. When managers see other pitchers throwing CGs they are more likely to allow their own guys to do it. So, yes, I wouldn't be surprised if we continue to see an increase over the next few years.

    If you don't agree, think of the opposite. Up until about 25 years ago, an awesome start was a CG win. We loved to watch pitchers gut it out and go the distance. These days, if you look at the box score and a starter went 7 IP, 5 hits, 1 ER, we call that an awesome start. Pitchers know this too. The bar was lowered gradually after 1980-ish. But not it seems that the bar is going back up again.

    It's hard to believe, but it seems certainly possible that in 10 years, teams will once again carry only 9-10 pitchers and starters will complete 20-25% of their starts across the league.

  8. Tommy Says:

    Lee's been roughed up late in his past couple of starts. cause for concern?

  9. Djibouti Says:

    This pretty much sums up Lee's season: in his last four starts - no. 18-21 of the season - he struck out 33 and walked 3. His K:BB ratio went DOWN. That's insane.

    Until just now I didn't realize how good of a season Jered Weaver is having. Current leader in strike outs, 3rd among AL pitchers in WAR, 3rd in WHIP, 4th in IP, 2nd in K:BB (his 4.326 is second to Lee's 14.7...again, insane). Only coming in at 8th in ERA+ though.
    In terms of relievers, I'd look at Joakim Soria with Mariano Rivera. 34/1 vs. 24/2 SV/BS.

    Side note, why on the Pitching Leaders pages is the first box WAR for batters?

  10. Evan Says:

    Following up on Andy's point @7 about contagiousness, I would guess that many pitchers (or their agents) see other pitchers throwing complete games and figure that this is going to come up in arbitration hearings and contract negotiations.

    Also, as the closer role as it has been defined today (generally one inning, and almost always used in a save situation) has had some longevity many managers may be realizing that just because you call someone the closer doesn't make them as effective as Mariano Rivera. Seems like, for awhile, many managers simply went to the closer in the ninth because it was a save situation without consideration for the thought that the starter who was, clearly, already pitching well might be a better option than a closer who might have an off night that night (perhaps because this worked so well for Joe Torre and the Yankees in winning 4 out of 5 World Series). Perhaps this could be examined by seeing if there is a decrease in starts of exactly 8 innings, though this might be offset by pitchers who had previously gone 7 going a bit longer.

  11. DavidJ Says:

    Lee also has two nine-inning starts that aren't credited as complete games because they went into extra innings.

    Of course, he also has two eight-inning complete games, so it sort of evens out.

  12. Malcolm Says:

    I really hope Andy's right and we do start seeing more complete games... I can't speak for anyone else, but I still do find nothing more exciting than watching a pitcher try to finish what he starts. Of course, that might also have something to do with my total distrust of all things bullpen...

  13. Rioraton Says:

    It is an interesting point, Andy and others. The uptick in CG's is heaterning. I wonder how much of it is due to less use of PED's? Certainly that has caused pitch counts to go down, thereby allowing starters to stay in games longer.

    I've always thought this was a cycle they got into. If pitchers are limited to, say, 90 or 100 pitches, they never buld up their stamina to go much beyond that. Now, obviously, some SPs effectiveness drastically declines after they pass that mark, but others have the physical and mental capabilities to go throw more (in some cases, many more) pitches on occasion. Perhaps managers (and GM's and agents) are more willing now to accept the increased risk of letting a pitchers throw 110-120 pitches once in a while. IMO, the more this happens, the more stamina these pitchers will devleop and maybe we will get to the place Andy said - back to 9-10 pitchers and more CG's.

  14. Raphy Says:

    If you're going to include 50 inning pitchers like Mariano Rivera, how about Joaquin Benoit? He's having the type of year where you can't help but giggle when you look at his stats. 1.24 ERA, 6% IS%, 14 OPS+, 12.4 SO/9 ...

  15. Ben Says:

    Also regarding Benoit, while he's allowed 6 R this year, 2 of those were a result of Jason Kubel's catwalk infield single with 2 outs. So if you were to feel generous and factor those out, Benoit has a ~0.82 ERA and one less loss on his record.

  16. Timberhill Says:

    Francisco Liriano should most definitely be considered.

  17. Paul Says:

    Cahill has to be considered, he's arguably been the best in the AL to date, and has as good a chance as anyone of winning the award. As incredible as Rivera has been, if he's to be included, Joakim Soria of the Royals could also be in the conversation. But we don't need to exhaust the "does a closer deserve the Cy Young Award" debate.

  18. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Has anyone noticed that these lists don't include a single pitcher from Cincinnati? Anderson may be retired now, but the spirit of Captain Hook is still among us!

  19. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    Wow, if he reaches double digit CG's, he'll be only the 2nd pitcher to achieve that during the past 11 seasons (2000-2010), the other being another former Indian, Sabathia (10 CG in '08)

    For the AL CY poll, I nominate Soria (1.98 ERA, 208 ERA+, 34 saves), Jered Weaver (4.3 WAR), Cahill, & Mo Rivera.

  20. Rich Says:

    I think it's silly that people talk about complete games in the past fondly. Please.

    Complete games are MUCH more enjoyable now. Who the hell cared about a complete game when EVERY crappy starting pitcher had at least a few a year? Now it's a somewhat rare and neat event.

    The only thing people overlook is sometimes a pitcher would throw a CG and not even pitch that well. I think managers are sometimes a bit smarter about their bullpens now. As overrated as a closer is, it makes sense after 7 IP to say "you know what? I've got guys who can throw 95-97 with movement in my bullpen; I'm gonna put one of them in."

    I mean, do you really think it would be better if San Diego used its crazy good bullpen LESS often?

  21. JeffW Says:

    Somewhere along the way, you have to determine what good the middle/set-up guys bring to a game, versus what the starters could likely give you, and weigh that against the possibility of have a better, deeper, bench, with all the extra options that provides.

    Do the middle/set-up guys really make that much of a difference?

    I'd love to see a little more balance. Maybe get back to the days of 9-10 pitchers, with at least one or two of the pen guys capable of throwing multiple innings on occasion.

    Another question: what percentage of all games do you believe could effectively be completed by starters that now arbitrarily go to the pen, just because?

  22. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Rich has a good point there. People like to remember Matthewson's complete game victory over Three-Finger Brown in his last start -- ignoring, by and large, that Brown had a CG too, and the final score of that game looked like a football score -- 10 to 9.

    I mentioned Anderson {#18) as a point-maker; the proper use of the bullpen can {and usually does} determine the success or failure of a manager -- and a team.

  23. MichaelPat Says:

    Lee is averaging 108 pitches per start. His lowest total is 92, highest 118.

    Halladay, with 8 CG in 25 starts, has averaged 110 pitches per, ranging from 88 to 132.

  24. MichaelPat Says:

    Halladay's game log is so much fun... 25 starts: one of 6 1/3, one of 6, all the rest 7, 8 or 9 innings. 13 times he's pitched seven innings or more and given up 1 run or 0 runs... 13 out of 25. Sheesh!

  25. MichaelPat Says:

    Oops... Missed his bad start against Boston; he lasted just 5 2/3 IP.

  26. Dan Says:

    Jered Weaver

  27. Basmati Says:

    Yet still not as good as Lee.

    Halladay averages 7.72 IP per start.

    Lee has averaged 8.05 IP per start. 2 starts of 6.1, everything else 7 minimum.

    My first thought was Weaver although he got roughed up last night. The Angels offense isn't quite as bad as Seattle but Weaver would have more than 11 wins if they had performed better.

  28. Joe B Says:

    Lee is a true stud and yet he's been on four teams in the last year and a half - now that's weird.

  29. Andy Says:

    And he's a free agent after this year I think?

  30. MichaelPat Says:

    Basmati, Not to be argumentative, but...

    Halladay has four more starts. 13 of 25 with 7+ innings and 1 or fewer runs.

    Lee, 7 of 20 starts with 7+ innings and 1 or fewer runs.

    Want to use two or fewer runs? Halladay: 18 starts 7+ innings with two or fewer runs. Lee, 12 starts of 7+ innings with two or fewer runs.

    Who's helping his team to win more?

  31. MichaelPat Says:

    Correct that, Lee has 21 starts

  32. BSK Says:

    Lee is averaging over 8IP a start. When is the last time a pitcher did that?

  33. BSK Says:

    W/R/T Lee being on 4 teams over 2 years, I wonder how much of it is because there is still a bit of doubt about his abilities. I mean, this IS a guy who struggled pretty mightily up until 3 years ago and came out of no where to become a Cy Young caliber pitcher at the age of 29. I wonder if the teams that held him thought he might have been more valuable to someone else than to them, that they were selling high on a guy who might crash back down to Earth.

    Now, I don't personally hold this viewpoint... not now at least. And I do realize that two of the teams that traded him weren't going anywhere (Cleveland never was and Seattle missed their own bus), but the Philly trade clearly indicated they thought there was a fairly substantial difference between Halladay and Lee to go to all that trouble. I wonder if there are still doubters out there...

  34. rico petrocelli Says:

    Weaver sunk by buchholz last nite

    Sox have beaten most of these guys this year including wakefield over halliday

    Is that evan from firebrand? Moonlighting?

    Who has had the better career...thome or frank thomas?

  35. Richard Says:

    "but the Philly trade clearly indicated they thought there was a fairly substantial difference between Halladay and Lee to go to all that trouble. I wonder if there are still doubters out there..."

    It was pretty straight-forward. Halladay agreed to a very favorable extension. Supposedly, Lee was offered the same and made a counter offer. Lee wants big, big money this offseason. Trade had nothing to do with talent.

    Back on the subject of complete games, one thing no one is pointing out is that pitchers didn't really go that much deeper pitchwise previously. Yeah, sometimes they did, but for the most part, complete games were still in a decent pitch range. Players take a lot more pitches now.

    Since it's a recent thing, check out the PBP for the Bobby Thomson HR game:

    When Newcombe is taken out with 1 out in the 9th, guess how many pitches he has. 100 exactly. (for some reason, you have to add it up yourself)

    The Giants starter has 96 pitches entering the 8th and that's when he starts to get hit around, so maybe taking a pitcher out after 7 innings or so isn't babying them, it's just playing the odds that a fresh arm will have a better chance at getting the final 6 outs or so.

  36. Zachary Says:

    Players don't take many more pitches than they used to - the walk rate is the same as it's always been. They strike out more often, but the pitches/PA aren't substantially greater. It definitely is babying that's caused the complete game to go dormant for so long, and I'm glad to see Lee and the Ryan-led Rangers move to change that.

    But I also want the four-man rotation back. I want top-end guys to start 40 games. Until then, the pitching coach may as well rock the crib.

  37. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Rather than calling it "babying", maybe we should think of it as another step in the evolution of the game. At first, remember, pitchers were only permitted to throw underhand; replacement was only permitted in cases of injury. Fram there, it was for decades an unwriten rule that starters were supposed to go the distance -- heroic relievers were few and far between {the only ones that come to mind right now are Wilcy Moore and Hoyt Wilhelm, and maybe Joe Beggs}. It has taken the better part of a century and a half, but the concept of strategic relief employment has reached a proper level. As I said before, {see comments 18 and 22}, I believe that Sparky Anderson was a trailblazer in this area; a genious ahead of his time in the strategic use of the pen; and I believe that any reverse of these trends would be tantamount to going back to the days of paper-thin gloves and optional {or no} batting helmets.

  38. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    And, in answer to Rico Petrocelli {#34}, that's like choosing between Frank Howard in his prime and Harmon Killebrew in his -- both Thome and Thomas are/were men of a higher cut from the crowd {I say that because I recall a magazine article from about 1969 comparing Hondo to the Killer}.

  39. Gerry Says:

    So when was the last time a pitcher completed half his starts (minimum 10 CG)? I get Bobby Witt, 1988, 13 CG in 22 starts. In 1942, Ted Lyons completed all 20 of his starts. I don't think any other pitcher has done that since 1920.

  40. Andy Says:

    #36, that's absolutely wrong. Pitches per plate appearance has been steadily on the rise.

  41. BSK Says:

    "It was pretty straight-forward. Halladay agreed to a very favorable extension. Supposedly, Lee was offered the same and made a counter offer. Lee wants big, big money this offseason. Trade had nothing to do with talent."

    I don't know it's fair to make that conclusion. It is not like both were sitting there and they chose Halladay over Lee. They had Lee, traded him away, and then traded even more to get Halladay. Obviously, they perceived Halladay to be better than Lee. And maybe they were right. But they gave a huge extension to a 33-year-old pitcher with 2000 innings on his arm and jettisoned a 31-year-old pitcher with 1200 innings on his arm. Now, maybe it was a financial decision, but I have to assume that their perception of the relative talent level was somewhat of a factor. Maybe the money was that far apart, but seeing as how they gave Halladay $20 mil a year, I struggle to think that Lee asked for so much more that it was worth it to take the net loss in prospects that they did. The Phillies clearly didn't think that Lee plus the difference in prospects was worth what he was asking, but that Halladay minus the difference in prospects was worth $20 mil. There are a lot of factors there, obviously, and it is hard to ferret out exactly what impacted what, but my gut says Lee's track record gave the Phillies some pause (and maybe rightfully so... who knows).

  42. Zachary Says:

    No offense, Andy, but a tenth of a pitch isn't exactly a lot, especially with only a decade of data. That's an extra three or four pitches a game, maybe, and it is "absolutely wrong" to conclude that the pitch/PA rate has been steadily rising for many years. With a percentage change that small, it could easily be a statistical quirk. So, yeah, I stand by my original statement.

    And 37, I don't consider it a positive change in the game to have the best pitchers throw fewer and fewer innings. How does it make the game better to exchange 80 innings of Jon Lester for 80 of Ramon Ramirez and Scott Atchison?

  43. Andy Says:

    I have the data going way back and it has been gradually and steadily increasing over time. In the last 20 years it has increased 4%. That's quite significant.

  44. Basmati Says:

    I assumed Lee would be cheaper than Halladay due to not performing at the same level for as long, and therefore potentially a better guy to sign given that his output in recent years has been of the same caliber and he has not had the wear and tear that may catch up with Halladay in the next few years. I was surprised the Phillies let Lee go then given what they had to outlay to get Halladay.

    To reply to Michael Pat, who's helping their team win more, it depends how you measure it. Lee plays in a stronger offensive league, yet he has better WHIP, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, SO/BB than Halladay. He averages more IP per start. Yes Halladay has given up fewer runs but like I said he's pitching in the NL.

    Halladays team are 16-9 in games he starts. Lee's are 12-9 (8-4 in Seattle but just 4-5 in Texas).

  45. JeffW Says:

    Andy (#43),

    I raised this point in another thread, but how much of that rise is in the way pitchers attack hitters, knowing the way the pen will come into play?

    If a starter doesn't have to worry about pacing himself through nine, he'll be willing to play around more, and waste a few pitches, trying to get a hitter to go fishing.

    The same with relievers, who largely know their work will be limited to no more than about 20-25 pitches.

    What's the need to be conservative?

  46. Andy Says:

    Jeff, yes I think psychological factors like this are huge. Or rather, the impact on the player psyche, focus, and approach brought about by tendencies and trends in the game. And unfortunately they are largely invisible to us from a stats perspective. We can see that CGs, historically way way down over a long period of time, are up this year--but WHY are they up? The why is tough to determine through stats alone.

  47. JeffW Says:

    Conversely, a pitcher like Lee doesn't mess around. He goes right after hitters and takes care of business.

    Same with Halladay. Buehrle's another one. Quick pace, purposeful demeanor.

    They put themselves in a position to be there at the end.

    Felix's stuff is so dominant that he doesn't have to mess around. He has wicked movement on his pitches. Sometimes, it's too good.

  48. KB Says:

    Where does the idea that Lee wants "big, big money" this offseason come from? Maybe I missed something, but as far as I can tell, he hasn't indicated it. He took a very low offer with Cleveland (and look how that deal has turn out). I'm not convinced.