Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Cliff Lee is hot, Kyle Lohse is not in June
When the Philadelphia Phillies visit the St. Louis Cardinals on "Wednesday Night Baseball" (ESPN, 8 ET), the starting-pitcher matchup between Cliff Lee and Kyle Lohse will feature two players headed in opposite directions.
Lee is 3-0 with an 0.38 ERA in three June starts, having allowed one earned run in 24 innings. Lohse, on the other hand, is 0-1 with a 6.48 ERA in three starts this month.
Lee’s June has all the potential of being one for the record books. Since the end of World War II, only four Phillies pitchers have had a sub-1.00 ERA for a single month (with a minimum of five starts). The last pitcher to accomplish the feat was Jim Bunning, who posted an 0.87 ERA in August 1967.
Sixty percent of Lee's balls in play in June have been grounders, compared to 43 percent in the first two months. Lee has also decreased his fly-ball percentage from 39 to 28 and his line-drive percentage from 18 to 12.
One of Lee’s go-to pitches this season has been the cutter. He’s thrown 309 of the cut fastball, fourth-most in the majors. Opposing hitters have chased 43 percent of his cutters outside the strike zone, the second-best percentage in baseball.
One area of concern for Lee is how he’s fared away from the confines of Citizens Bank Park this season. He’s 6-1 with a 1.88 ERA at home but just 1-4 with a 5.35 ERA on the road.
If there is an even more specific hole in Lee’s game this season, it is pitching with runners in scoring position. Opponents hit .270 against him with RISP last season, slightly above the league average of .256. This year they are hitting .338, an average that ranks 59th out of 64 qualified NL starters.
Although Lee’s areas of improvement are less pronounced, the same is not true for Lohse.
Lohse posted a 7-2 mark with a 2.13 ERA in April and May but has struggled to keep the ball in the park as the weather has warmed; he’s already allowed five home runs in June after allowing just three during the first two months of the season.
He also could be suffering from a bit of bad luck. In April and May, Lohse’s batting average on balls in play was .233, compared to a career average of .306. In June, his BABIP is .333. In the first two months, just 4 percent of his fly balls went for homers, compared to a whopping 21 percent this month.
Ryan Howard is one Phillie who’ll be happy to see Lohse; he’s 6-for-13 (and 4-for-his-past-6) with a home run in his career against his former teammate. Howard's batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS against the Cardinals are higher than against any other National League team, and he’s the active leader against St. Louis in all four categories.
The Phillies are 32-3 (.914) when scoring four or more runs this season, the best record in baseball by far. (The Mariners, who rank second, are 24-6, .800.)