A simple question: What on earth happened to Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the 106th World Series last night? Prior to Game 1, Lee had gone 3-0 this postseason with an ERA of 0.75 and a WHIP of 0.583. After last night's 4.2 inning, 8-hit, 6-earned run performance, Lee's ERA had jumped to 2.51 and his WHIP was now an astronomical (by Lee's standards) 0.816.
So what happened in the ballpark by the Bay? Let's find out after the jump:
If last night was Lee's worst outing of the postseason, then undoubtedly the outing before, a eight-inning bamboozling of the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS, was his best. A quick comparison between the two shows one glaring difference: that Lee threw a total of 30 curveballs and changeups against the Yankees, but only a total of 16 curveballs and changeups against San Francisco.
Why Lee was so quick to abandon his offspeed stuff? Mostly because he couldn't throw his curve or his changeup for strikes. The movement charts don't seem to show that Lee's curve and change-up were doing anything unusual last night compared to the outing against the Yankees. But take a look at the strike zone plots from the two matchups and compare the locations of his curve (pink dots) and changeup (yellow). Here's the plot from the ALCS, and here's the plot from last night.
See the differences? Against the Yankees, Cliff Lee was around the strike zone with his curveball and changeup, jamming the Yankees' lefty-heavy lineup. Last night, those curveballs and changeups were either well outside the zone or coming back over the middle of the plate. This implies to me that Lee was rusty from having nine days between starts.
Lee tried to compensate for his offspeed stuff by throwing his cutter more (he threw it 42 times last night, compared to just 34 times against New York). Ultimately, this is what did him in. Toggle back and forth between those two movement charts again. See how Lee's cutters last night came back toward the middle of the strike zone? Well, the Giants saw that, too, and by the time they'd chased Lee from the game in the fifth inning, they had started to tee off on Lee's cutter. With Lee out of the way early, the Giants then proceeded to feast on the mediocre Texas bullpen, and that was all they needed to take a the first game of the series.