Cliff Lee

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Note: This page is for Cliff Lee, the Cy Young Award-winning pitcher; for the outfielder who played from 1919 to 1926, click here.


Clifton Phifer Lee
(Mr. Automatic)

BR page

Biographical Information[edit]

Lee Follows Through-6202.jpg

After two seasons at Meridian Community College, pitcher Cliff Lee played at the University of Arkansas in 2000, going 4-3 with a 4.45 ERA and 77 strikeouts. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the fourth round of the 2000 amateur draft and made his pro debut that summer with the Cape Fear Crocs, where he was 1-4 in 11 starts. The next summer, he went 6-7 with a 2.79 ERA and 129 strikeouts with the Jupiter Hammerheads and struck out 10 batters in a game three times.

Lee began 2002 with the Harrisburg Senators and went 7-2 with a 3.23 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 15 starts before being traded to the Cleveland Indians in late June in a deal that brought Bartolo Colon to Montreal. The Indians made out like gangbusters in that deal, also getting future All-Stars Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips as part of their haul. After making three starts with the Akron Aeros, he was promoted to the AAA Buffalo Bisons in mid-July and was 3-2 in 8 starts for the club. He subsequently earned a September call-up to the Indians and was 0-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 2 big league starts.

After missing the first two months of the 2003 campaign due to injuries, he pitched for Akron and then Buffalo before being recalled by the Indians for a spot start against the Kansas City Royals on June 30th. He earned his first big league win in that outing and was then returned to AAA for 8 more starts. Recalled again in August, he went 2-3 with a 4.08 ERA in 8 more big league starts.

Lee was a full-time member of the Cleveland rotation in 2004. He led the club with 161 strikeouts and tied Jake Westbrook with a team-leading 14 wins. The next year, 2005, he was even better, winning 18 games, leading the American League with a .783 winning percentage, and finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting. He won 9 straight decisions to start the second half and overall was 9-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 14 starts following the All-Star break.

After winning 14 games in 2006, Lee missed the beginning of the 2007 campaign with an abdominal strain. After three minor league rehab starts, he made his 2007 debut with the Tribe in early May. However, he struggled, going 0-4 with an 11.70 ERA over four July starts, and was sent down to Buffalo on July 27th. He was brought back up to Cleveland in September and posted a 4.76 ERA in four appearances out of the pen.

Entering 2008, Lee was not even guaranteed a place on the Cleveland roster, but he earned the fifth rotation spot in spring training. In his first seven outings, he was 6-0 with a 0.67 ERA, and he had a 12-2 record at the All-Star break. He made the All-Star team for the first time that season. On September 1st, he became the first 20-game winner in the majors that season with a 5-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, bringing his season's record to a stellar 20-2. At that time, the Indians were the only major league team ever to have 33 straight seasons without a 20-game winner: the streak was between Gaylord Perry in 1974, and Lee in 2008. The second longest such streak was 32 seasons by the Phillies, from 1918 to 1949, while the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals had not had a 20-game winner since Ross Grimsley in 1978. At the end of the season, he was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year and won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award.

Lee was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies halfway through the 2009 season. He was only 7-9, but with a solid 3.14 ERA in 22 starts for the Indians, then went 7-4 in 12 starts for the Phils. He was brilliant in the post-season, putting up a 1.10 ERA in two starts in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, blanking the Los Angeles Dodgers over 8 innings and picking up the win in his lone start in the 2009 NLCS, and then picking up both Phillies wins over the New York Yankees in the World Series. After the season, the Phillies decided to trade him in a complicated three-team deal that landed them ace starter Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays. Lee ended up with the Seattle Mariners, who were poised to make a run at the post-season after playing surprisingly well in 2009.

The Mariners' hopes to contend in 2010 were quickly dashed, however. Lee started the year on the disabled list and did not make his first appearance until April 30th, only winning his first game on May 11th. By then the Mariners were racked with dissension, with veterans Eric Byrnes and Ken Griffey, Jr. having been released and Milton Bradley being sidelined with emotional issues. Still, Lee pitched eight straight games of 8+ innings with one or no walks from June 18th to July 27th. Only three major leaguers had done so previously according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Ferguson Jenkins (1974), Mort Cooper (1942) and Red Lucas (1932). In the middle of the streak, he was traded to the Texas Rangers with the Mariners heading nowhere fast. He was 8-3, 2.34 with Seattle, being named to his second All-Star team, but by the time the game was played, he was a Ranger. He went only 4-6, 3.98 in 15 starts for Texas, but justified himself with his work in the postseason. He won two games over the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS to propel the Rangers to their first-ever series win in the postseason, then won his only start against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, giving up no runs on 2 hits in 8 innings. That put his career record in the postseason at 7-0, making him the third pitcher to do so, following Orel Hershiser and Orlando Hernandez. Things did not go as well in the World Series, as he lost both his starts facing the San Francisco Giants, giving up 10 runs in 11 2/3 innings.

Lee was one of the most sought-after free agents after the 2010 season, with the Rangers, Yankees and Phillies pulling out all stops to sign him. He chose to return to Philadelphia, and became part of a dominant starting rotation for the Phillies in 2011, alongside Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. From June 16-28th, he pitched three consecutive shutouts and then returned to the All-Star Game for the third time, but the first on the National League squad. He retired the first five batters he faced in the contest, before giving up a homer to Adrian Gonzalez and then giving way to Tyler Clippard. He continued to pitch well after the break, earning his 4th shutout of the year on August 4th against the San Francisco Giants, then earning his 12th win and hitting his 2nd home run of the year in his next start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 9th. Lee had two incredible months in 2011 - 5-0, 0.21 in June and 5-0, 0.45 in August. Only two pitchers in MLB history had gone unbeaten two months in a year with 5+ wins and ERAs under 1 - Walter Johnson in 1913 and Bob Gibson in 1968. He was named the National League's Pitcher of the Month in August, then on September 5th recorded his 6th shutout of the year, becoming the first pitcher to have that many in a season since Randy Johnson in 1998. He ended the season with a record of 17-8, 2.40, and 238 strikeouts in 232 2/3 innings. He finished third in the voting for the Cy Young Award, behind Clayton Kershaw and his teammate Roy Halladay. He started Game 2 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals on October 2nd; he was staked to an early 4-0 lead, but in what was a key turning point in the postseason, he gave up 3 runs in the 3rd, and one each in the 6th and 7th to be charged with the Phillies' 5-4 loss. The Cardinals thus started their improbable run that would lead them to a completely unexpected World Series title.

There were more problems for Lee in 2012. He pitched quite well when the season started, including 10 scoreless innings against the San Francisco Giants on April 18th, and one run in 8 innings against the Houston Astros on May 15th, but ended with a no-decision both times. He remained winless through the season's first two months, and his performance went downhill. In his last 4 starts in June, his ERA was 7.30, and when he was charged with a loss against the Miami Marlins on June 29th, he fell to 0-5 in 13 starts, his record reflecting his team's struggles. He finally won his first game on July 4th, beating the New York Mets, 9-2, but even that wasn't a walk in the park: he was trailing 2-0 coming into the 7th inning when his teammates finally got their bats going against Chris Young to give him a comfortable cushion. His 13 starts without a win was one of the longest such streaks ever by a former Cy Young Award winner, one behind Greg Maddux with the 2008 San Diego Padres, but well behind the 19 games suffered by Fernando Valenzuela in 1988 and 1989. He ended the year with very unusual statistics: a record of only 6-9, but 211 innings pitched in 30 starts with a 3.16 ERA and an outstanding K/W ratio of 207/28. Clearly, his won/loss record bore no relation to how well he had pitched.

He did not have to wait as long to record his first win of 2013, as he allowed only two hits and no runs in 8 innings against the Atlanta Braves on April 4th to gain credit for a 2-0 combined shutout. On May 22nd, he improved to 5-2 on the year with his first complete game shutout in almost two years, a three-hit 3-0 win over the Miami Marlins. With the Phillies having a poor season, his performance went somewhat under the radar, but he was as good as ever that year, being named to the All-Star team for the fourth time. On September 16th, he had one of his best games ever, when he beat the Marlins, 12-2, striking out 14 over 8 innings; he also helped with the bat, going 3 for 4 with 4 RBIs, the most by a Phillies pitcher since Robert Person had channeled Babe Ruth and driven in 7 runs in a memorable game back in 2002. He finished the year at 14-8, 2.87, with 222 strikeouts in 222 2/3 innings.

Lee was given the ball on Opening Day on March 31, 2014, after Roy Halladay had retired during the off-season. Facing the Texas Rangers in an interleague game, he struggled, giving up 8 runs in 5 innings, but still managed to come up with the win as the Phillies ended up winning a slugfest, 14-10. He pitched a lot better in his next few outings, including 7 scoreless innings for a second win against the Chicago Cubs on April 5th, and then giving up only a run in a 9-inning complete game against the Atlanta Braves on April 16th but being stuck with a 1-0 loss. On April 21st, he pitched another gem, striking out 10 in 8 scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers for a 7-0 win; he retired 20 consecutive batters between the 2nd and the 8th innings. He was 4-4 with a 3.10 ERA after 10 starts when he was placed on the disabled list with an elbow strain on May 20th. He came back on July 21st and was scheduled to make his third start since his return on July 31st, amid speculation that he would be traded that day with the Phillies headed nowhere and pitching in high demand. However, questions about his health resulted in his staying put in Philly, and when he made his scheduled start against the Washington Nationals, he retired 9 of the first 10 men he faced, then felt a sharp pain in his elbow while facing Denard Span. He left the game immediately amidst speculation that he was done for the year, ending the season with a record of 4-5, 3.65 in 13 starts.

There were more rumors of a trade after the season, but again it did not take place, as potential trade partners were concerned about Lee's health. This became an even more pressing concern in spring training in 2015, as an MRI detected a partial tear in the flexor tendon of his left elbow. The Phillies placed Cliff on the 60-day disabled list, but he elected not to undergo surgery, hoping that rest and rehabilitation would allow him to return to the mound later in the season. In fact, he ended up missing the entire season, and on November 3rd, the Phillies declined his option for 2016, making him a free agent. He explained that he still wanted to play, but only if he found "the perfect fit". In the end, there was no such perfect fit and he retired.

He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in its 2020 election but received only two votes and was dropped from the ballot. As of 2022, he is the last major league pitcher to have pitched 10 full innings in a game: he pitched 10 scoreless innings against 2012 Giants!San Francisco Giants the on April 18, 2012 and ended up with a no-decision.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 4-time All-Star (2008, 2010, 2011 & 2013)
  • 2008 AL Cy Young Award
  • 2008 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • AL ERA Leader (2008)
  • AL Wins Leader (2008)
  • 2-time AL Winning Percentage Leader (2005 & 2008)
  • 2-time League Shutouts Leader (2008/AL & 2011/NL)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (2005, 2008 & 2011)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (2008)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 8 (2005, 2006 & 2008-2013)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 3 (2011-2013)

AL Cy Young Award
2007 2008 2009
C.C. Sabathia Cliff Lee Zack Greinke

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jamal Collier: "Driven by championship, Lee seeks 'right fit'",, January 3, 2016. [1]

Related Sites[edit]