Should You Worry About Cliff Lee?

Dave · March 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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…


28 Responses to “Should You Worry About Cliff Lee?”

  1. jld on March 21st, 2010 10:21 pm

    Great post, mostly because I was just fretting over not picking Lee tonight in my fantasy draft.

  2. henryv on March 21st, 2010 10:21 pm

    Not to be a downer, but the M’s look pretty good if they aren’t in the AL West race.

    As long as Lee isn’t hurt going into July, he is probably going to be very, very good trade bait.

    We have a 2nd baseman 3rd baseman (hey, look, he’s versatile!) who is likely to post quite a few RBIs who is likely to be traded for something good.

    We will have a DH who may very well have revived his career in Seattle, where there isn’t enough media in town for him to make a complete ass of himself ALL the time.

    Even if the M’s aren’t competing into late Summer, our management has set us up so that parts they’ve assembled can be sold off pretty easily, and we won’t suddenly be the Kansas City Royals.

    *It should be noted that I don’t hope any of this happens, but at least if it does, it won’t be the end of the world.

  3. enazario on March 21st, 2010 10:33 pm

    I am not going to pretend I am not bummed about this. I am as bummed about this as I was excited when I heard about the signing. Am I the only who remembers how excited everyone was about having Felix and Cliff Lee on our roster?

  4. behappy on March 21st, 2010 10:57 pm

    We are Mariner fans. We are use to disappointment.

  5. joser on March 21st, 2010 10:59 pm

    We’re still excited about having Felix on our roster.

    Heck, we’re still excited about Lee, but that comes with caveats.

    What really worries me is kind of the dark cloud inside Henryv’s silver lining: we needed the M’s to get out in front of the pack early so that there was no question of what to do when the trade deadline approached. Alternatively, if bad luck and injuries tank them then they can trade, trade away. But what if these problems put them in the cellar in April… and then with Bedard and Lee back in the rotation they start clawing their way back in May and June, so that by July they’re in the thick of things but still a few games back? With the team on the bubble like that, are you buyers or sellers, especially with a somewhat harder second half to the schedule?

    But hey, here’s the silver lining to that cloud: maybe if Lee has a bad season due to injury, he’ll be willing to sign a one-year extension just to prove he’s healthy and maximize his free agent payday?

  6. Liam on March 21st, 2010 11:10 pm

    Good thing we didn’t sign him to a $100M extension.

  7. moyerLIVES on March 21st, 2010 11:34 pm

    Welp. That’s baseball.

  8. _David_ on March 22nd, 2010 12:28 am

    Lee would’ve faced the A’s in his first start. Doesn’t a poor offensive opponent diminish the importance of having an ace anyway? I know that sounds stupid, but with two teams that don’t score, doesn’t it make the game more random, that either team couuld score 2-3 runs and win?

  9. ThundaPC on March 22nd, 2010 1:20 am

    I was thinking about this after listening to Mike Blowers on Saturday’s televised Spring Training game. He stressed that you just don’t know how you’ll feel in a case like this until you start getting back in the swing of things and that it definitely could linger (I’m paraphrasing horribly here).

    Nevertheless, it got me thinking that at this point the we won’t be able to stop holding our breaths for Cliff Lee until he no longer wears a Mariner uniform. Of course we learn a lesson in assuming that everything will go right.

    I’m not actually bummed, however. I’d prefer to see this team handle and overcome adversity. I’m a tad jealous always seeing the Angels miraculously overcoming all sorts of nonsense over the years. If we’re going to win this division, things like this can’t suddenly derail a season.

    But yea, Cliff Lee is definitely a concern now. What we had figured he’d be worth to the team is now looking more like his upside.

  10. CrimsonNW on March 22nd, 2010 2:16 am


    I knew as soon as the news broke that this wasn’t good. Get well soon Cliff. Please…

  11. DaveValleDrinkNight on March 22nd, 2010 2:55 am



    Pitchers this good don’t get sidelined by a muscle pull.

    If I had heard the words TEAR, or RUPTURE, I would be freaking out.

    Didn’t hear either of those. Chill.

  12. Mekias on March 22nd, 2010 6:29 am

    I’m going to try not to worry about it until the strain gets re-evaluated. I think the team can survive him missing 2-3 starts. For now, that’s all I’m preparing for him to miss. We’ll find out more later this week I guess.

  13. Mekias on March 22nd, 2010 6:43 am

    With Luke French starting yesterday and going 4 innings, is he the likely replacement? I don’t think I have much of an opinion on Frenchy yet. He looked awful when he pitched for us last year but he must have done something right in Detroit (and in the minors).

    Maybe he’ll re-discover the “ooh-la-la” pitch again.

  14. PackBob on March 22nd, 2010 6:51 am

    The good thing is that Lee let them know right away, rather than trying to suck it up, creating the best scenario for quick recovery. This team has a lot of question marks, with the potential for injury right at the top. How well the team does this year may be determined by how they cope with injury.

  15. Paul B on March 22nd, 2010 7:38 am

    I don’t think I have much of an opinion on Frenchy yet

    French is (or used to be, at least) a left handed fly ball pitcher.

    If you envision Washburn as his potential upside, you’d be pretty close.

    Coming into spring training he was probably something like #7 or #8 on the Mariner depth chart for starting pitcher. With injuries to Lee and Fister, he’s got to be in consideration.

  16. Goody on March 22nd, 2010 7:48 am

    The M’s are being (rightly) over cautious with this as they have visions of August and September being filled with important games for which Cliff Lee will be needed. He may miss the first couple of weeks but I have to believe he will be OK. Was it not last year that Ichiro started the year on the DL despite his objections? They wanted him 100% so the team opted towards patience. The same holds true for Lee.

  17. tubbabubba22 on March 22nd, 2010 8:32 am

    This is not great to think about mainly just because the back end of our rotation has looked so poor already this spring. Hopefully they are working on new things because I had confidence them before spring…. Now it is not looking good with rowland-smith, fister, vargas, and french not performing well at all thus far.

  18. tylerv on March 22nd, 2010 9:27 am

    I’ll be doom and gloom- this team has no depth, everything has to go right for them to win the division.

    I’m still looking forward to the season, but expectations really should be tempered. Last year, as a Mets fan, before the year began expectations were so high I knew no matter what the season wouldn’t be fun. Even if they won it all it somehow wouldn’t have been fun. Now I’m not going that far with expectations for the M’s, but it’s almost an uphill battle from the beginning for Seattle this year.

  19. MeanMachine on March 22nd, 2010 10:23 am

    Don’t you miss those glory days, last month, when everything was all roses all the time lol. These things happen, it’s a damn pitcher. They are handling it the right way. Don’t worry, be happy!

  20. mikethomas22 on March 22nd, 2010 10:25 am

    If Lee is out to start the season, and we’re looking at RRS, Snell, Vargas, and either French or Fister behind Felix, should we go with 12 pitchers to start the year? Carry either Fister or French as a long guy? We probably can’t count on long starts for the first few weeks from our starters. If we do this, can we send Langerhans down to start the season and then bring him back up once Lee is back and go to 11 pitchers at that point?

  21. Chris_From_Bothell on March 22nd, 2010 10:48 am

    This would be a great time for RRS to step up and pitch like a #2 starter for about 6 weeks or more. He was pushed and challenged by being held down in AAA for extra long to ensure he was recovered from injury and ended up performing well. Perhaps having to be the #2 for a while, while Lee recovers, will challenge RRS enough to be on his game.

    …ah, who am I kidding. We’re M’s fans. We can’t have anything nice. We have Felix, Ichiro, Chone and Franklin, and we’ll be damned happy with that.

  22. joser on March 22nd, 2010 11:25 am

    If Lee is out to start the season, and we’re looking at RRS, Snell, Vargas, and either French or Fister behind Felix, should we go with 12 pitchers to start the year?

    Wakamatsu has been quoted in interviews saying these developments mean they pretty much have to break camp with 12 pitchers. (Was trying to find the interview to link to but I can’t find it… maybe it was something I heard in a pre/after game radio bit?) The good news, if you can call it that, is that we’re still a ways away from the end of Spring Training so they have some time to sort out their options.

  23. Mekias on March 22nd, 2010 12:15 pm

    Larry Stone said that Lee did cardio work yesterday. I don’t think there’s any cardio that wouldn’t aggravate an abdominal strain. It can’t be feeling too bad, can it?

  24. Henry Jasen on March 22nd, 2010 12:34 pm

    I’m with Tylerv. This is a remarkably thin team which needs everybody but Jr. to stay healthy for most of the year. If Jack Wilson misses 2 months there will be serious problems. Heck, If Lopez gets hurts for a month they’re in trouble. This is a team that can win 90 if everything breaks right.
    It is comforting to see Hank5’s comment about the marketability of some of the M’s pieces. There are a lot of quality spare parts, but not much of a core. Besides Guttierez, Felix, and an aging Ichiro who do you expect to see contributing on this team 2 years from now?

  25. henryv on March 22nd, 2010 1:26 pm

    With the team on the bubble like that, are you buyers or sellers, especially with a somewhat harder second half to the schedule?

    Well, the company line would be that they are trying to make the team better now as well as in the future.

    But at that point, you gotta think they’re buyers, seeing as how they would only have 2 more months of Cliff Lee before he’s off to the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs.

  26. Paul B on March 22nd, 2010 2:46 pm

    Worst case would be if Lee misses so much time that he is no longer a Type A free agent.

  27. jld on March 22nd, 2010 3:05 pm

    Worst case would be if Lee misses so much time that he is no longer a Type A free agent.

    The Elias rankings take into account injury time, so if he’s out hurt for a while and then pitches decently after he returns, he’ll likely remain Type A.

  28. joser on March 22nd, 2010 4:32 pm

    Besides Guttierez, Felix, and an aging Ichiro who do you expect to see contributing on this team 2 years from now?

    Two years from now? Figgins (signed through 2013 with an option for 2014). Ackley. Moore. Maybe RRS. Maybe Tui.

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