Yesterday, after hearing the stunning news of Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies, I got thinking about how many teams he's played for since the start of the 2009 season. Four teams in 2 seasons, and soon to be a fifth, seems to be a lot for a player of his calibre. (Note, I'm counting the Phillies twice since they're two distinct time frames)
Over the last 6 years, Lee has accumulated 27.5 fWAR and has been steadily good other than his injury shortened 2007. Using fangraphs WAR data from 1980 onward, I grouped together every pitcher that has pitched 6 years at 27.5 WAR or greater over that timeframe. Obviously many players are on this list multiple times, so I counted them multiple times. Then I figured out how many teams those players played for over that time span.
Some fun graphs (okay, so my graphing skills are limited) and lots of links after the jump.
Interesting stuff I thought. Lee is one of seven pitchers to have pitched for four or more teams over a six year span of greater than 27.5 fWAR. Providing he keeps up with that pace for next year he'll be one of four pitchers to have pitched for 5 teams. Interestingly enough, two of the 5 team pitchers pitched for the Jays. David Cone pitched for the Mets and Jays in 93, KC in 94, and for the Jays and Yankees in 95. David Wells pitched for the Tigers, Reds, Orioles, Yankees and Jays in a 6 year span of very good baseball.
The problem with the 6 year, >27.5 fWAR graph, is that it includes a lot of good, but not great pitchers. Guys like Javier Vazquez get included because of their consistent play and I wanted to look at more elite type pitchers. Over the last 3 years, Lee has accumulated 20.9 fWAR, so the graph below shows all pitchers that have accumulated >20 fWAR over a 3 year window.
In conclusion, pitchers of Lee's caliber just don't change teams as much as he has. 30 years of data, and he's the only pitcher fitting the above criteria has played for 4 teams in a 3 year span.
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