World Series Game 1: Cliff Lee’s Crazy Night of BABIP
“This just goes to show you we have no idea what we’re talking about.” – Joe Buck during the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1
Cliff Lee had his first rough outing of the postseason tonight against the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series. Over 4 2/3 innings, his line was 7 R, 6 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 1 HBP and 7K. If you think like me, your first glance at that line will have you thinking “where are all the outs in play?” Let’s take a look.
Lee faced 24 batters over his 4 2/3 innings. Here’s a breakdown of the plate appearances:
5 aerial outs (including bunt foul popup by Linececum)
The Rangers got 8 hits on 15 balls in play for a .533 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and the Rangers defense only converted 6 of 15 balls into outs at a 40% rate. These are some pretty extreme numbers, needless to say. This isn’t to say that Lee got completely unlucky — a lot of his pitches were off and he was giving up a lot of hard-hit balls even though none left the park. However, we can compare this to his season-long performance for some perspective.
Compared to the .533 BABIP in Game 1, that number was at .302 during the regular season. Unfortunately for Lee, really small sample sizes will give you that discrepancy. Over the course of the year, there were only three starts where Lee gave up hits in more than 33% of plate appearances.
5/21 v. SDP
6.1 IP, 32 batters faced, 11H, 8R, 7ER, 7K, 0BB
8/21 @ BAL
5.2 IP, 28 batters faced, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 4K, 1BB
8/31 @ KCR
4.2 IP, 25 batters faced, 10H, 7R, 4ER, 5K, 0BB
Tonight’s start looks pretty similar to each of these. However, Lee had a much more dominant night tonight in terms of missing bats. Here’s the % of batters struck out in each appearance:
5/21 vs. SDP – 21.9%
8/21 @ BAL – 14.3%
8/31 @ KCR – 20%
10/27 @ SFG – 29.17%
So, from a statistical standpoint, this looks like a night of aberration.
FOX Color Commentator Tim McCarver did offer up the observation that Lee was not getting ahead of batters nearly as much as he normally does. In fact, his first pitch strike rate tonight was 60%, compared to 69.8% on the year. On top of that, Lee threw 66.3% of pitches for strikes, compared to 71.14% on the year. These numbers could help explain the fact that he actually walked a batter and hit another. The Giants also could have been able to make better contact off Lee due to his poor control. Still, this doesn’t account for his whole performance.
In the end, it was a slightly-off performance combined with good hitting by the Giants and some bad luck. To top it off for Lee, reliever Darren O’Day immediately surrendered his two inherited runners on a Juan Uribe 3-run homer, adding two more earned runs to Cliff Lee’s total.
These are the kinds of results you get in playoff baseball. It may not be just, but it is definitely exciting.
Update: Joe Pawlikowski at Fangraphs did a great breakdown of Cliff Lee’s pitches showing that the left-hander was hitting the middle of the zone a whole lot more rather than the edge of the plate. This would explain all the hard hit balls, and as a result, hits.