A five-point plan for beating Cliff Lee


From Dan Rosenheck's blueprint for the Yankees' success against Cliff Lee in Game 3:

    3. That said, try to lay off the junk. Lee doesn’t have the raw stuff to blow hitters away -- in fact, batters made contact against him on 84 percent of their swings, one of the highest rates in the league. But he excels at getting hitters to offer at bad pitches: the big change between his decent 2004-7 and his dominant 2008-10 was that batters swung at only 20 percent of his pitches outside the zone in the first period compared with 29.4 percent in the second. The Yankees have long preached plate discipline. Lee will put their preparation to the test.

I bring this up mostly to beat an old drum. Maybe I'm reading this incorrectly, but the message I'm getting here is that Lee is good at inducing weak contact, which leads mostly to outs.

It's a funny thing, though: Lee's BABiP -- Batting Average on Balls in Play -- is perfectly normal. It was .302 in 2008, when he won the Cy Young Award. It was .321 in 2009. It was .290 this year. Those numbers are no different from many dozens of other major league pitchers, none of them Lee's equal.

Lee is great mostly because he strikes out a large number of hitters while walking remarkably few. Maybe he doesn't blow hitters away, but he struck out 185 of them this season somehow. Maybe the secret to beating Lee isn't laying off the bad pitches; maybe it's swinging at the strikes, many of which must be slipping past without a swing. (I just don't know how else to explain the high strikeout rate and the high contact rate.)

If you're wondering (and can't be bothered to RTWA), No. 1 is don't worry about the platoon advantage, No. 2 is (essentially) hit the first good pitch you see, No. 4 is steal second base when you can, and No. 5 is to bunt toward Michael Young at third base.

I think these all are fine ideas, as far as they go. But whenever someone comes up with a "plan" to beat a great pitcher -- supposedly, Kevin Long's got one, too -- I always figure if it were really that easy, somebody would have done it already.

I mean, somebody must have had a plan to beat Tom Seaver, right? And Wilt Chamberlain? And Mike Tyson?

When those guys were in their primes, a plan might seem perfectly feasible until the first few strikeouts, or the first few dunks, or the first punch in the nose. Then you realize you're overmatched, and just try to survive. And sometimes that works.

If Lee doesn't make his pitches or the Yankees catch a few breaks, they can beat him. It happens all the time.