One last bit of Cliff Lee hype, to get you ready for tonight's start. Here's a breakdown of Lee's pitches using FanGraphs' and Texas Leaguers' PITCHf/x tools. This can be sort of a guide for you on what to expect.
As with all pitchers, Cliff Lee throws his fastball a lot. Since he left the Indians, however, he's thrown it less often, dropping from throwing it 68.9% of the time over his career to ~61% of the time since the start of last season.
PFX finds the fastball he throws most often to be the two seam variety.
Click the image for a larger view of the movement on Lee's two-seamer. He's been throwing it 40.1% of the time this year, which is way up from 2009, and he never even threw it in 2008. Which says to me either it's a PFX error, or something he's doing differently that has led to his extra awesome season by his own lofty standards. It has an average velocity of 91.1 mph, slightly-below-average horizontal movement of 7.8 inches and nearly three inches less of sink compared to the average two-seamer. As with all of his pitches, he locates it well, throwing it for strikes 72.5% of the time.
PITCHf/x has Lee's use of a four-seamer as declining each season in favor of what's being called a two-seamer. Here's the movement.
He's thrown it 20.8% of the time this season at an average velocity of 91.0 mph. The horizontal movement is a bit behind the two-seamer, but it has closer to average sink (though still roughly two inches below average). Just like the two-seamer, it's a ball that gets across for strikes a lot; in this case 73.5% of the time.
FanGraphs' has Lee's fastball (both) as being worth nearly 1.5 runs above average for the team every 100 times it's thrown. That's third in the American League, by the way. Behind C.J. Wilson.
More fastballs. Lee's third most thrown pitch (according to PFX) this season is the cut fastball.
Much like the two-seamer, Lee's use of the cutter has dramatically increased over the years, up to throwing it 19.1% of the time this season against a 7.1% career rate. Once again, possible error or possible explanation for how Lee has gone from very good to otherworldly.
Lee's cutter travels at an average of 86.3 mph and moves an impressive -3.2 inches horizontally, or in on right handed hitters/away from lefties. For reference, that's more vertical movement above average (which is roughly 0 from both hands) than Mariano Rivera has been getting this season.
Here's a graph of Lee's cutter moving in on righties.
And, once again, he throws it for strikes. 76.2% of the time.
Lee's cutter at FanGraphs has been worth around 0.7 runs above average every 100 times thrown. Once again, that's top ten in the league and, once again, it's directly behind one C.J. Wilson.
With three good fastballs, we have to have a changeup, right?
Someone with more PFX experience has to explain those crazy outliers to the left.
Anyway, Lee has thrown his changeup 14.2% of the time at an average of 84.5 mph. Once again, the ability to locate is staggering, with 75.7% thrown for strikes this season. Like the fastballs, the horizontal movement is more than average, while the sink is less, by about an inch in both regards.
FanGraphs, meanwhile, thinks the change has been Lee's most effective pitch this season, at an amazing 3.34 runs above average for every 100 times thrown. That's the second best in the AL. It is not behind C.J. Wilson (Jon Lester).
Lee doesn't go to his breaking pitches often. The most common is the curve.
Wicked bite. In fact -5.7 inches of bite, vs. an average of -4.0 on curves. Here's a side image.
Lee throws that curve just under 5% of the time, which is the lowest in his career. It goes at an average of 76 mph. And while it only goes for strikes 53.8% of the time (it is a breaking ball), he gets people to whiff on it at an awesome 17% rate. For reference, the league average swinging strike rate is 8.4%.
FanGraphs considers this his second most lethal pitch at a 3.32 wRAA/100 rate. That's behind on Brett Cecil in the American League.
PITCHf/x says Lee has a slider. I would like someone to verify this for me. He rarely throws it (2.5%), it's not very effective per FanGraphs (-0.31 wRAA/100) and it's got only slightly more velocity (79.8 mph) than the curve. Is it possibly just a failed curveball some of the time? Or is it actually yet another pitch in his arsenal that's just rarely deployed?
The slider is below-average in horizontal movement and very unique in vertical movement (it has more top spin than a slider should). It's a strike half the time, and hitters only whiff on it 7% of the time.
I'm very curious about this pitch. I haven't watched Cliff Lee quite enough to know.
I've thought often over his recent seasons that Cliff Lee reminds me of Greg Maddux. My memory of Maddux (and correct me if I'm wrong) was a pitcher with a variety of fastballs that he leaned on, all with different movement and low-90s velocity at best, and he backed those up with tremendous off-speed stuff. And, most importantly, he had precise control and pinpoint accuracy over each pitch, essentially devastating hitters with carefully controlled differences in pitches and unhittable locations.
That's what Lee is right now. He commands the strike zone at will with a variety of fast balls -- being able to run in on the hands of either handedness of hitter -- and a fantastic changeup, all of which he can locate perfectly. And when he needs, he has a seemingly untouchable curveball. It's not often you compare a pitcher to Maddux, but it's not often a pitcher is throwing as well as Cliff Lee has been the last two and a half years.