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We Always Hittin, So Yo, There'll Be No Extra Innings: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Cleveland Indians

Fresh off a series win against the loathed Red Sox, the Jays look to keep rolling after the off-day when they continue their homestand in a three-game mid-week series against the Cleveland Indians.  The series opens tonight (Tuesday) at 7 pm with two lefties matching up, Brett Cecil for the Jays and Cliff Lee for the Tribe.  The series continues on Wednesday night when Ricky Romero starts for Toronto and the magnanimous Carl Pavano makes the start for Cleveland.  The series concludes with a getaway game on Thursday afternoon at half past noon, but it hasn't yet been released who is actually starting for Cleveland, though I am anticipating it being Tomo Ohka.

Hopefully the Jays continue their winning ways (if you can call one series win "winning ways") and string together a few more good games against Cleveland before the division rival Tampa Bay Rays come back into town next for a weekend series.  It won't be easy to get started off against Cliff Lee, but hopefully the Jays have a bit more offensive success against this excellent lefty than they did against Jonathan Lester yesterday.

21 July

Cliff Lee (5-9, 3.31, 1.360 WHIP)

Lee leads the American League in starts (with 20) and innings pitched (136) so far this season and has been quite effective throughout.  While Lee has been extremely unlucky with run-support (average of just 3.64 runs and has received more than four runs of support just five times), he has not been unlucky with balls in play.  Over the last two seasons, Lee has demonstrated an ability to keep the ball in the ballpark that few pitchers can replicate (just 0.6 HR/9, 7% HR/flyball).  Last season, en route to his Cy Young Award, Lee led the League in walk-rate and this season he's done an excellent job as well (33 or 2.2 BB/9).  While his walk-rate has increased, his strikeout-rate has come down a bit, though it's still pretty solid (99 or 6.5 K/9), so Lee is having a fine season, but his FIP of 3.31 is probably a bit lower than it should be, thanks in part to his luck on HR-balls.  None of this is to take away from Lee's season, as mentioned earlier, he's leading the League in innings pitched, so it's possible that the wear on his body (both this season and last) has caused a bit of regression with regards to his rate-stats.

So far this season, Lee has PQSed 3, 2, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 4, 0, 2, 5 and 5 for a very solid mean of 3.45 and Dominance-/Disaster-rates of 55% and 5%, respectively.  What we've seen this year from Lee (for the most part) is his ability to give the Indians a chance to win almost every time out (unfortunately for him, as his record shows, they haven't been very good at actually taking advantage of those chances).  Either way, Cliff Lee is still a solid pitcher, but he has not been nearly as good as he was in 2008 (though he's had a nice run in his last 10 starts or so).

This season, the southpaw has been almost unhittable against lefties (.226 / .247 / .290; 8.33 K/BB), but has actually been quite human against righties (.309 / .358 / .430; 2.47 K/BB).  These numbers are, of course, heavily influenced by BABIP (.260 vs. lefties and .363 vs. righties).  Lee was just as devastating against righties as lefties last season, if not moreso (661 OPS vs. lefties and 621 OPS vs. righties), so perhaps batting coaches and advance scouts have picked up on something that he used to keep righties at bay last season.

Lee is not a fastball pitcher, but he does feature a four-seam fastball in the low-90's that he uses primarily to set up his change against both lefties and righties as well as an excellent cut-fastball, which he used to great effect against righties last season.  He also throws a tight curve and a slurve-type pitch that most folks call a slider.


22 July

Carl Pavano (8-7, 5.13, 1.374 WHIP)

Somehow, although Carl Pavano's ERA is almost two runs higher than Lee's, he has more wins and fewer losses.  Go figure.  Over 18 starts, Pavano has pitched 107 innings (just 38 2/3 fewer than he was paid $38 M over four years by the Yankees for from 2005 - 2008), and has even had a pretty respectable season.  His peripherals are actually quite impressive thus far.  He's struck out 77 (6.5 K/9) and walked just 20 (1.7 BB/9) while allowing 11 dingers (0.93 HR/9).  Even more importantly, his homerun-rate does not seem to be artificially low (10.9% HR/flyball is a pretty normal distribution).  Pavano's been victimised a bit by bad luck on balls in play (.338 BABIP) but most of all, he's been terrible at stranding runners (62.4% strand-rate).  Nonetheless, I don't like to say anything good about Pavano, so disregard everything else I've written and just assume that he's an hack.

Over his 18 starts, Pavano has PQSed 0, 4, 5, 3, 4, 4, 3, 3, 5, 5, 4, 4, 0, 2, 0, 5, 2 and 5 for a mean of 3 and Dominance-/Disaster-rates of 56% and 17%.  In Pavano's last start he pitched 8 innings, struck out six and didn't walk a batter.  Hopefully, history repeats itself as the only other time Pavano pitched at least 8 innings this season (a nine-inning complete game shutout, actually), he followed it up with a 4 2/3 inning, 11 hit, 3 HR performance.

The big righty who gave a bad toast at a wedding rehearsal dinner in Florida that Joe Torre happened to attend has been successful against righties (.318 / .336 / .498; 5.60 K/BB), but has been at least as tough on lefties (.279 / .325 / .405; 3.27 K/BB), striking them out almost twice as frequently (49 K in 234 plate appearances vs. lefties vs. 28 K in 220 plate appearances vs. righties), but also walking them almost three times as much (15 BB vs. lefties, 5 BB vs. righties).  Over Pavano's career, lefties (.295 / .353 /. 455; 1.80 K/BB) have hit him significantly better than righties (.264 / .312 / .408; 3.19 K/BB), as would be expected from most righthanded pitchers.

Part of why Pavano's been so much more effective this season than during his time with the Yankees is because he seems to have regained both velocity and command on his two-seam fastball.  Not only does he manage to induce grounders with the pitch, he also uses it as a means to set up his change.  Like Lee, Pavano will throw the change to both lefties and righties, and he has actually thrown it almost 25% of the time this season.  He also throws a slurve-type slider which serves as more of a change of plane than pace from his changeup.


23 July

Tomo Ohka (0-4, 5.95, 1.398 WHIP)

The former Jay (let's not talk about that short, unhappy stint again) has not been effective in years.  The last time he posted a K/BB-ratio of 2.0 or better was in 2003 with the Montreal Expos.  After spending last season in the minors with the Chicago White Sox, Tomo Ohkato Mr. Roboto signed with the Indians for 2009 and has been up with the club since late in May.  Since that callup, Ohka has pitched 39 1/3 innings over 5 starts (and three relief appearances) and struck out just 14 (3.1 K/9) while walking 13 (2.9 BB/9) and yielding 10 HR (2.23 HR/9, 20.8% HR/fly).  On the bright side, that HR/fly-rate should probably come down.  On the less bright side, he's striking out three batters every nine innings and giving up a lot of fly balls.  That's not a recipe for success at any level, even if his .246 BABIP were sustainable (which it's not).  His 5.95 ERA is actually quite a bit lower than his 6.87 FIP, but is about where it would be if you normalize his HR/fly-rate a bit.

Over those five starts, Ohka has lost four of them and PQSed 3, 2, 0, 0 and 3 for a mean of 1.6 and Dominance-/Disaster-rates of 0 and 40%, respectively.  Yeah, that's just another way of saying that he hasn't been good.

Ohka's managed to keep lefties (somewhat?) at-bay this season (.229 / .298 / .506; 1.13 K/BB), but that's primarily due to luck (.197 BABIP).  Righties have torched him (.333 / .395 / .580; 1.00 K/BB), and that line is not inflated by BABIP (.305).  Over his career, the righthanded Ohka has actually exhibited modest reverse platoon splits.

Ohka is a junkballer who relies quite a bit on off-speed stuff.  His four-seamer doesn't come in very hard and his two-seamer is a little too flat to really be called a sinker.  If either pitch so much as touches 90, the gun is probably fast.  He uses his change-up almost exclusively against lefties.  His "out-pitch" is his slider and he's also mixing a cutter (which has a little less movement, but comes in a little faster) in to induce pop-flies.