Why Cliff Lee Is The Perfect Pitcher

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 22: Starter Cliff Lee #33 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on June 22, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

There are a handful of things that you want a pitcher to be able to do. Cliff Lee does all of them. Therefore, he is perfect.

Cliff Lee threw his third consecutive shutout Tuesday night. Two of those shutouts came against the Cardinals and Red Sox. In June, Lee made five starts and threw 42 innings, allowing a run. For the sake of comparison, Rick Porcello threw 31 innings in June and allowed 27 runs. He just allowed a 28th while I was writing this sentence. And yet, as amazing as Lee has been, his success and popularity in Philadelphia are not a surprise. This is because Cliff Lee is the perfect pitcher.

He isn't literally perfect. There was, after all, that run. The fact that Cliff Lee has an ERA confirms his imperfection. But as far as realistic human pitchers are concerned, it doesn't get better than Lee, on and off the field.

I understand that relatively few people have had the privilege of watching Lee pitch for their team. You could also say that too many people have had the privilege of watching Lee pitch for their team, given what he is. In the past two calendar years, Lee has pitched for four teams, which is three more teams than, say, A.J. Burnett or Kyle Lohse. But over that span, Lee pitched for my team, and I can vouch for the fact that he's perfect. I didn't know this kind of pitcher could exist until Lee came along.

He's durable, and works deep. Since 2009, Lee has averaged better than seven innings per start, with 29 batters faced. These numbers are superior to CC Sabathia's. They're superior to Justin Verlander's. They are among the very best in the league.

He strikes people out. Lee isn't Brandon Morrow in this regard. He doesn't go out there throwing wild, uncontrollable gas. Instead, he throws a fastball, a cutter, a change, and this big, loopy curve with such precision that batters are helpless. He strikes people out despite the absence of classically dominant stuff, which makes him more impressive.

He's accurate. Over the past three years, Lee has posted baseball's best strike rate. He's posted baseball's second-lowest walk rate, and second-highest K/BB. Cliff Lee's pitches are like tactical strikes, except perfectly located tactical strikes, so they're more like theoretical tactical strikes.

He's handsome. I guess. That's what my girlfriend says. So now every time I turn around in my office, I see a poster of Lee in a Seattle uniform and I'm reminded of the 2010 Mariners all over again.

He's one of them leaders. Lee's got a lot of experience, he's learned a lot of lessons, and so he serves as a role model. In Seattle a year ago, he assumed a leadership position even though he knew he wouldn't be around for more than a handful of months. He has an incredible work ethic, he's dedicated to his craft, and he's someone younger and older players alike can approach when they're looking for a tip.

And last, but certainly not least, he works quickly. Lee is a pitcher who coaches and broadcasters describe as a guy who "gets the ball and throws it." His tempo is a treat if you're a coach or a teammate, and it's a treat if you're a fan, because it makes him all the more watchable. Here is a comparison, and I apologize for the size of these files:

Leepitches Papelbonpitches

 

Pace doesn't seem important until you watch somebody with a really fast one or a really slow one. Where a slow pace drives everybody insane, a fast pace makes everybody happy. Fast pitchers receive less criticism, because everybody loves a fast pitcher.

As a Mariners fan, given the option, I would change something about Felix Hernandez. I would change something about Michael Pineda. I would change like a dozen things about Jason Vargas. I wouldn't change anything about Cliff Lee, and the Phillies couldn't be luckier to have him. They also couldn't be luckier to have baseball's other perfect pitcher, too.

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