Should You Worry About Cliff Lee?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer – pitchers are really unpredictable. Two years ago, Lee was a back-end flyball guy coming off a terrible year that saw him end up in Triple-A. He was fighting for a rotation spot – he added a cut fastball, improved his command and velocity, and won the Cy Young. The moral of the story with projecting pitchers is you just don’t know what they’re going to do, no matter how well or poorly they pitched before.
But there a few things we do know about pitchers, and one of them is that they don’t do particularly well when they’re less than 100 percent. Even a minor injury to some non-arm part of their body can cause them to change their mechanics, lose velocity, screw up command… remember Felix after he came back from his DL stint in 2007? He was tentative, he didn’t have very good location, and he got hit pretty hard for the first month after he came back.
So, what does this abdominal injury mean for our expectations of Cliff Lee’s season? Well, first off, there’s a good chance that this could be a problem beyond the day he’s activated from the disabled list (assuming he goes on it, which I think is a pretty decent assumption). If he misses a couple of weeks, there’s still going to be an issue of potential lingering effects. I wouldn’t count on seeing the dominant Cliff Lee at any point in April. Our expectations for what he’s going to produce in the first month of the season have to be scaled back quite a bit, even if he only misses a start or two.
I don’t mean to be Mr. Doom And Gloom here, but this is a pretty big deal. Any time a pitcher gets hurt, it isn’t standard operating procedure. He’s going to miss basically all of spring training between this and the foot thing surgery earlier, and pitchers are unpredictable anyway. The M’s built a team that basically has to lead the league in run prevention in order to win, and one of their main assets at keeping hitters off the board now comes with a red flag.
This isn’t a death knell or anything, but it has the chance to be a real problem. If the M’s are going to win the west, they need Cliff Lee to pitch like an All-Star, and if he’s pitching through a lingering injury, that just became a little less likely…