Monday, October 18, 2010
Rangers' Lee claims spot among greats
It's premature to suggest that Cliff Lee is having the greatest postseason in the history of postseasons; in 1905, Christy Mathewson started three World Series games and pitched three shutouts. Randy Johnson carried the Diamondbacks in 2001. Et cetera. Also, Lee's postseason isn't nearly finished, as he's likely to start two and possibly three more games.
Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee allowed just two hits in eight innings in an 8-0 win over the Yankees.
It is safe to suggest that Lee's three-start streak this fall ranks among the best ever: three wins, 24 innings, one walk, 34 strikeouts. Maybe Mathewson's three Dead Ball Era shutouts were more impressive, or maybe they weren't. Maybe Sandy Koufax's three brilliant starts in the 1965 World Series were more impressive, but maybe they weren't. We can probably agree that Lee's first three postseason starts this season place his name squarely among those Hall of Famers (not to mention all the other Hall of Famers who didn't pitch nearly as well as Lee has).
But it's not just this fall in which Lee has thrived. He pitched brilliantly a year ago, too. In eight postseason starts -- five with the Phillies last year, now three more with the Rangers -- Lee's 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA.
I am fairly certain that no pitcher has ever started his postseason career with numbers like that.
What's difficult is putting Lee into context against everyone else. As brilliant as he's been, it's only eight starts and 64 innings. Andy Pettitte has now thrown 263 postseason innings. Granted, Pettitte's 3.83 is hardly historic ... but what about John Smoltz? In 209 postseason innings, Smoltz went 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA. What about Curt Schilling? In 133 innings, Schilling went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA.
If we're going to blast a Mount Rushmore of postseason pitchers, we have to consider likenesses of Schilling and Smoltz, along with probably Bob Gibson and -- because it would just be wrong not to -- Mariano Rivera, even though he's never started a postseason game.
But among starters with fewer than 100 postseason innings, Lee would seem to stand alone, or nearly alone. In nine postseason starts, Gibson went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. But Gibson pitched in a pitcher's era, and his brilliant strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.4) was roughly half of Lee's (9.6). Roughly the same might be said of Koufax (who pitched fewer postseason innings than Lee).
Maybe the bottom line is this: It's difficult to imagine anyone pitching, over the course of 64 innings in the October cauldron, any better than Cliff Lee has pitched.
Maybe he'll get hammered his next time out, and the time after that, and someday fall comfortably into the large group of other excellent pitchers who have pitched about the same in October as the rest of the months.
With this head start, though? I wouldn't bet on it.