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Looking Ahead: Cliff Lee

Fantasy leaguers have short memories, and often seem to expect pitchers to repeat the previous year's performance (right down to the win total).  Readers of this site know it usually doesn't work that way.  Let's take a look at this year's Cy Young favorite, Cliff Lee. 

I should start by saying, I like Cliff Lee.  He has helped many of my fantasy teams this year (except when I traded him to Los Genius for Rafael Furcal in May). Right now Lee has a 2.43 ERA, 18 wins, and a 1.08 WHIP.  A 5.42 K/BB ratio tells us this is no fluke.  However, it must be noted that Lee leads all of baseball with a 5.0% HR per flyball rate.  Though he's gained a ton in groundball rate, he's likely to give up twice as many homers in '09. 

The other risk factor is that he pitched 145.3 innings in '07 and should top 225 this year.  Lee is 30 years old and he's topped 200 innings in the past.  Still, 80 innings is a notable increase for any pitcher in my opinion.

Run support should also be considered - Lee is seventh in the AL with 5.77 runs per game.  The Indians rank eighth in the league with 4.83 runs per game.  Baseball Prospectus suggests Lee should be 14-5 rather than 18-2.  XFIP calls for a 3.47 ERA rather than 2.43.  Still, you'd take 14 wins and a 3.47 ERA for a guy you plucked off the waiver wire, wouldn't you?

That's the thing about a Cy Young season - it's a very well-pitched performance accentuated by good fortune.  I have no idea how fantasy leaguers will respond to Lee's season.  If they overcompensate for his likely decline and he slips past the eighth round, I'll consider him.

Last year's AL Cy Young vote with each pitcher's average '08 draft round: C.C. Sabathia (5), Josh Beckett (5), John Lackey (6), Fausto Carmona (9), Erik Bedard (4), Roy Halladay (9), Johan Santana (2), Justin Verlander (5).  And for fun, the NL: Jake Peavy (2), Brandon Webb (4), Brad Penny (11), Aaron Harang (6), Carlos Zambrano (6), Cole Hamels (5), John Smoltz (7), Jose Valverde (8), Jeff Francis (13).

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