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Historically speaking, how bad was Cliff Lee last night?

Oct 28, 2010, 2:45 PM EDT

cliff-lee-game-1-towel Getty Images

Cliff Lee turning in a clunker last night was a huge surprise, but how does his disappointing performance compare to some of the worst Game 1 efforts in World Series history?

Based on Game Score, which is a Bill James invention that uses various aspects of a pitcher’s performance to calculate one number representing the strength of each start, Lee’s outing ranks as the 13th-worst in Game 1 history.

Baseball-Reference.com has the complete list, with the worst of all time being Woody Williams’ start against the Red Sox in 2004 when he allowed seven runs while recording just five outs.

Lee’s start last night is the worst since Jeff Francis allowed six runs in four innings against the Red Sox in 2007. And while Williams and Francis aren’t exactly household names Lee is actually in some pretty good company overall. There are 18 pitchers with a Game 1 start that tallied a Game Score of 30 or lower and the list includes names like Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Andy Pettitte, Orel Hershiser, Hal Newhouser, and Eddie Cicotte.

The lesson? Two things, actually. First and foremost, Cliff Lee is human. Second, lots of other great pitchers have gotten knocked around in Game 1 of the World Series, in part because lots of great pitchers have started Game 1 of the World Series.

  1. dodger88 - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Interesting note – of the other 17 games on the baseball-reference list, the team losing game one went on to win the series 9 times.

  2. hasbeen5 - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    Is the Cicotte game from 1919? If so, that’s not quite the same is it?

    • dodger88 - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:52 PM

      It is and is one of the 8 instances where the team lost both game 1 and the series. If one removes it from consideration due to the gamblin implications, it just strengthens the stats in favour of those teams that dropped game one but still won the series.

  3. Jonny 5 - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Of course he’s in great company.. It’s game 1 of the WS… Now game 3 will have much less “good company”.

  4. IdahoMariner - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    I watched the game and have read tons of stuff about Cliff submitting a “clunker” — but I kept thinking Lincecum’s game wasn’t all that hot either. I love both of them and was looking forward to a duel, and got Cliff being a good, not great, pitcher and Tim being a good, not great, pitcher — Cliff got a hit off Tim, for pete’s sake. Not just a hit, but a double. so…what was Tim’s game score? I am hopelessly inept at finding things on Baseball Reference (I think I keep wanting their search engine to be more doofus friendly)…. can you help me out?

  5. IdahoMariner - Oct 28, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    okay, I’m back. I went and did the math myself, always an iffy proposition…and I come up with a game score of 38 for Tim.

    (I still think there should be a demerit for allowing an AL pitcher to get a double off you.)

    Now, that doesn’t strike me as all that fabulous either, and backs up what I thought I saw last night…

    so why all the doom and gloom over Cliff? is it that he was so lights out in this postseason and last (until last night)? or that he’s the ace, and the starters behind him aren’t quite Matt Cain? This headline, and the blog entry on baseball reference, are all about how bad Cliff was, and it just didn’t seem like there was that huge a difference between them. Ten points on the game score. (don’t know where Tim ranks in all-time worst Game 1 scores, the baseball-reference list doesn’t go past 30). All the headlines are “Cliff is human” (well, yeah) and “Oh, noes! the rangers are screwed because Cliff didn’t annihilate the GIants!” I don’t quite get it. I guess it doesn’t matter, but it still seems like intellectual sloppiness.

    • Jonny 5 - Oct 28, 2010 at 4:21 PM

      “so why all the doom and gloom over Cliff?”

      I think it’s because Cliff was supposed to be the X factor in this series. Let’s face it. The rest of SF’s pitching staff that’ll play the series is plain better than what the Rangers can trot out. Cliff was going to be the guy to shift that pitching edge to Texas. Now what? Texas is in more trouble now than they thought coming into this and SF now is riding the wave, it’s going to be tough to knock them off it too. And it’s not intellectually sloppy to think Texas is screwed because Lee didn’t beat SF. It’s kind of a realistic take on the situation imo.

      • IdahoMariner - Oct 28, 2010 at 4:34 PM

        I don’t mean intellectually sloppy to think the rangers are screwed…and looking at how I wrote that, I should have been more clear. It just seems like it should also be troubling (and more intellectually precise) that Lincecum did not pitch anywhere near his other-worldly ability, either. They both did a lot better against the aces than anyone expected.

      • Ari Collins - Oct 28, 2010 at 4:42 PM

        The idea that pitching beats hitting has been thoroughly debunked. If you don’t care about what’s actually happened throughout history, just check out last night, when two of the best ten pitchers alive got the $#!^ beat out of them.

        Fact is, while the Giants have better pitching, they also have a really bad offense. The Rangers have much much better hitters, and their pitching isn’t as bad as the Giants hitting. Rangers pithers allowed the fourth fewest runs in the AL, which is the better league, and in a hitter’s park to boot.

        Money’s gotta be on the Giants, of course, since it’s a lot easier to win 3 of 6 then 4 of 6, but the Rangers are far from screwed.

      • feartherallythong - Oct 28, 2010 at 6:10 PM

        Ari,

        I must respectfully disagree on two of your points – first, “The idea that pitching beats hitting has been thoroughly debunked.” A sample size of one game is not really debunk-worthy, although I would welcome more data to advance that argument…

        The second thing I would disagree about is your assertion that the Giants have “a really bad offense.” The 2009 Giants – now THAT offense sucked (except for Sandoval)! Weak, and if they were behind after the sixth, time to turn off the TV. This year’s offense is average (9th in the NL in BA), middle of the pack. Additionally, having the middle of the order hitting .290 (Huff), .292 (Sanchez), and .305 (Posey), with all three (and Ross as well) peaking at the right time, the offense is positively adequate! Sure, no pitcher will fear this lineup, but it’s pretty solid in its average-ness right now. We’ll just have to see if it’s enough…

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