Translating Cliff Lee The Mariner Into Cliff Lee The Ranger (Parts 1 and 2)

MLB Trade Rumors, is reporting that the Rangers have just completed a deal with which send them stud SP Cliff Lee and injured (and out for the season) RP Mark Lowe from the Mariners in exchange for Justin Smoak and three other prospects (RHP Josh Leuke, 2B Matthe Lawson and RHP Blake Beaven). From an immediate fantasy perspective, this trade clears up 1B for the Rangers, who are likely to call up Chris Davis, who I covered in my THT AL Waiver Wire article two weeks ago, from AAA very, very soon. I stand behind my .280/.330/.510 rest of season projection for Chris Davis upon his call up.

In a (very) similar vein of analysis earlier today, I pondered the question of what would Cliff Lee’s 2010 season look like as a Yankee. Now that he’ll be a Ranger, I’m going to do the same sort of analysis with different numbers. This analysis will be done in four parts:

  1. What If Cliff Lee Pitched The First Half Of 2010 For The Rangers?
  2. What Kind Of ERA Can We Expect For Cliff Lee Pitching For The Rangers After The All-Star Break Using His 2010 Peripherals?
  3. What Kind Of ERA Can We Expect For Cliff Lee Pitching For The Rangers After The All-Star Break Using His Three Year Peripherals?
  4. What Kind Of ERA Can We Expect For Cliff Lee Pitching For The Rangers After The All-Star Break Using His 2010 Peripherals And Three Year Walk Rate?

This post will cover parts 1 and 2, with 3 and 4 to follow shortly (possibly late tonight).

Part I: If Cliff Lee Pitched The First Half Of 2010 For The Rangers

Right now, Cliff Lee is sporting a pretty 2.34 ERA with 8 W’s, a 0.95 WHIP and 89 K’s over 103.2 innings of play (despite missing the first month of the season with an abominable abdominal injury). He’s pounding the zone more often then ever before (career best 59.8% F-Strike%), getting more Swinging Strikes (career best 9.1% mark) and inducing more swings at pitches outside of the zone (carer best 33.5% mark). The results are a career-second best mark in K/9 (7.73), a career best (and completely stingy) walk rate (0.52), and an outrageously low 2.21 FIP (2nd best amongst SP’s with 50+ IP) and 3.24 xFIP (5th best amongst SP’s not named Matt Belisle who have logged 50+ innings).

Cliff Lee, a relatively neutral GB/FB pitcher, has of course seen his ERA deflated some by the Mariners defense (5th best team in OF UZR/150, 9th best in team overall in UZR/150), while both his FIP and ERA have been deflated some by Safe Co.’s 3% offensive suppression and 0.95 HR/FB park factor index (per THT’s super secret park factor data). Hence, though a trade to the Rangers may benefit Lee’s W’s totals (the Rangers have scored 154 more runs than the Mariners through the first 85 games of the season), there may be some serious repercussion in terms of ERA and WHIP.

NOTE: I will likely cover WHIP regression analysis for Cliff Lee at a future date (possibly this weekend). For now, however, I am going to exclusively focus on an ERA projection.

Since this portion of my analysis is focused on translating Lee’s current 2010 numbers with the Mariners into Rangers-based numbers, I am going to use ERA as the baseline for my part 1 analysis. As mentioned above, Lee is currently sporting a 2.34 ERA with Seattle, allowing 27 ER over 103.1 IP.

Seattle’s defense to date has prevented 16.4 runs (per UZR data through 07/09/2010) over 755.1 innings of defensive play. That approximates a UZR/INN of about +0.0217. Over 103.1 IP, that would equivocate into approximately 2.24 runs prevented compared to the theoretical “league average” defensive posture. Adding this from Lee’s Seattle runs allowed total (RA), we get 29.24 runs allowed.

Next, we need to neutralize park data. As mentioned above, Safe Co. Park has deflated runs production by 6%, so we need to account for this in Lee’s RA figure. Dividing his current RA by 1.03 (as the Mariners only play half of their games at home), we get a new RA of 30.15. This gives us a context neutral ERA of 2.62 for Cliff Lee.

According to, the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington inflates run scoring by 8%. Multiplying Cliff Lee’s context neutral RA total by 1.04 (as the Rangers only play half of their games at home), we get a new RA total of 31.36.

Finally, we must accord for the Rangers’ defense to date. The team has a cumulative UZR (through 07/09/2010) of +20.5 over 763.1 innings of defensive play. That is a UZR/INN of about +0.0269 which equates to about 2.78 runs prevented compared to the theoretical “league average” defensive posture. Subtracting this from Lee’s adjusted RA, we get a final total of 28.58 runs allowed over 103.1 IP.

This equates into a 2.49 ERA.

Not too shabby, if you ask me. Shame the Rangers aren’t paying for Cliff Lee’s production to date. Hence, we seamlessly transition into part 2.

Part II: What Kind Of ERA Can We Expect For Cliff Lee Pitching For The Rangers After The All-Star Break Using His 2010 Peripherals?

Before we project Cliff Lee’s second-half numbers, we need to figure out how many innings will Cliff Lee likely pitch, barring an injury for the rest of the season. Right now, Lee is averaging an unbelievable 7.95 innings per outing. I am going to pessimistically round this number down to a flat 7.0 for two reasons. First, the Rangers are likely to give Cliff Lee some added rest down the stretch given his recent injury history and current workload. Second, the Rangers, who are in a playoff push and have reliable guys like Frank Francisco (post-losing his job), Darren Oliver (seriously?) and Neftali Feliz in the bullpen, are highly unlikely to allow Cliff Lee, who suffered a serious abdominal injury during the offseason, to keep on pitching complete games as the summer continues to heat up in Texas. Given that he missed all of April, I find it unlikely that Lee will eclipse the 210 IP mark this season. Hence, I’m sticking with my guns at 7 IP per start.

The Rangers have played 85 games so far this season and have 77 games remaining. On a five man rotation, this allots 15 games per starter plus 2 extra games to spare. For the reasons given above, I’ll assume that Lee will not pitch one of those “extra two” games. However, I will assume that, barring injury, he will play in the other 15 allotted starts. This would afford Lee a second-half innings projection of 105 (for a season total of 208.1 IP).

Taking Cliff Lee’s 3.24 xFIP as the baseline for projection analysis, we will use the above rates for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rangers’ defense to project Cliff Lee’s 2010 second-half ERA. A 3.24 xFIP over 105 IP would mean that Cliff Lee would yield 37.80 runs (RA) in a neutral context in the second half.

Adjusting first for park factors, Cliff Lee’s 37.8 RA total would have to be multiplied by 1.04, see supra, we get a park-adjusted RA of 39.31. Next, accounting for the Rangers’ defense (+0.0269 UZR/INN), we subtract 2.82 runs (UZR/INN*105) from his park-adjusted RA to get a final RA projection of 36.49.

The above equivocates into 3.13 ERA for Cliff Lee the Ranger for the second-half of 2010.

This figure, of course, assumes that Cliff Lee’s pin-point control (0.52 BB/9 through his first 13 starts) remains constant and he keeps hitters swinging and missing at the same rate. I’m not entirely convinced that Lee keeps up the super low walk rate, however — even if he does maintain the increased K/9 in the second half.

Ultimately, though, you can see why the Rangers are (and the Yankees were) willing to pay such a high price for Cliff Lee: he’s legitimately really, really good.

Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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12 years ago

Small typo in the third to last paragraph starting “adjusting first for park factors”, you said yankees when it should read rangers. nothing major.

Jeffrey Gross
12 years ago

@Chris: Good eye. Corrected.

12 years ago

Good post, Jeffrey. I agree that Cliff Lee most likely might not keep his walk rate this low. Imagine, though if he only had like 11-20 walks in 210 innings or so with 0 walks in most of his next several starts. That would be pretty cool to see.

Jeffrey Gross
12 years ago

@Bobby Mueller,

I agree he’ll likely keep pounding the strike zone, but he’s on pace for 12 walks over 200+ IP. The lowest walk total in a 200 IP season that I can recall off the top of my head is when Maddux had 20 BB in 1997. Hence, I don’t think using a 1.41 BB/9 instead of a 0.52 BB/9 is unreasonable. A 1.41 BB/9 would be a pace of about 16 BB for the rest of the season. Maybe it’s a bit much, but its probably closer to reality than 6.

Bobby Mueller
12 years ago

Lee has 1 walk in 47 1/3 innings at home this year, 5 in 56 1/3 innings on the road. 

That’s obviously terrific either place, but he can get away with pounding the strike zone more at Safeco than just about anywhere else.