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Sunday 20th Aug 2017

There’s no worse feeling in the fantasy world than drafting your team and expecting big things only to have one of your top players not perform up to standards – whether it be because of injury or just a crappy year. When this happens, the inevitable response is a bunch of words not fit for print here directed at said player to go along with much gnashing of teeth. If a player gets off to a bad start, the usual reaction is to hold onto him, hoping he’ll work it out. If things don’t turn around, the next reaction could be to try to dump the player on someone else based on name value. If, however, you wait too long, then you need to take a deep discount or be stuck with the player for the duration of the season. If I’m in that position, I’m loathe to actually just cut the player because I’m afraid the next owner to pick him up will wind up getting what I had banked on.

One such player many fantasy players were counting on for this year was Cliff Lee. The 35-year-old has been fantasy gold for most of the past six years and has anchored many a team’s pitching staff. Coming into the season, the southpaw was in the top-3 of starting pitchers in the National League. His auction value was in the $30 range and he went for more than that in some leagues. At that price, it was expected he would easily attain double-digit wins, an ERA close to 3.00, WHIP in the low 1.00 range and strikeouts north of 200. It looked like Lee was going to have another typical Cliff Lee season after spring training when he put up a 2.55 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, more than a strikeout per inning and less than a hit per inning.

But then the regular season started. Lee’s first start was in Texas against the Rangers. He lasted only five innings and was tagged hard. After the smoke had cleared, the box score showed eight earned runs, 11 hits allowed and only one strikeout in five innings of work. That equated to a 14.40 ERA and 2.40 WHIP for him and his owners – a very inauspicious start to the season to say the least. In his next three starts, he allowed zero, three, and one earned run but still gave up more than a hit per inning.

His best game came in his fifth start of the year against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that game, Lee went eight innings and only allowed four hits, zero walks, and struck out ten. His owners must have thought the train was back on the tracks, but he followed that with an eight hit and two walk effort against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he surrendered three earned runs and only struck out two.

After that, Lee kind of had an up and down performance for the next four starts. After allowing two earned runs on May 18 to the Cincinnati Reds in a game in which he gave up nine hits and only struck out three, Lee was sent for an MRI due to a sore throwing elbow – never something real or fantasy GM’s like to hear. The report came back that it was a strained flexor tendon and not something that would require the all too familiar Tommy John surgery that was running rampant during the early part of this season. The Phillies were saying he might only miss two weeks with the strain and he was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Two weeks later, however, the ace still had not been cleared to begin throwing and his owners started to worry even more. On June 10, he participated in some light tossing – just to get a feel for how the elbow felt. Things seemed OK and the schedule was pushed to light throwing every other day. On June 16, things were moved to a mound where he threw only fastballs on a very limited pitch count to see how the arm felt. The schedule was moved to throwing bullpen sessions in increasing pitch increments with a simulated game forecast for sometime during the last week of June. On July 1, he progressed to throwing 60 pitches against live batters and a minor league rehab trip would be next – Philadelphia was certainly taking it slow and easy with their star. In the first of these, he was limited to just two dozen pitches for High A Clearwater in a game that was cut short by rain. This start covered two shutout innings with one hit and two strikeouts.

The next start was again for Clearwater in which he allowed three runs in four innings but he did throw three quarters of his pitches for strikes. This now brings us to July 15 and his last rehab start. Things didn’t go well in this game as he was roughed up for eight runs, albeit only three earned, in 4 2/3 innings with only two strikeouts. This certainly wasn’t what Lee owners were hoping for.

He was activated from the DL this Monday and pitched against the San Francisco Giants at home. In his first start back, the Giants treated him roughly, with 12 hits, six earned runs and only three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. Not good at all and Cliff Lee owners are officially worried again and certainly wondering if there is a more extensive issue with him this year. I’ve heard more than a few wondering if he’s hit the wall and the slide is here.

I don’t have the answer to that but am glad I don’t have any ownership in him this year. It doesn’t look good but there isn’t much those with some stock in him can do at this point but wait and hope. With the way things have been going, however, Daisy Duke would rather be riding in a Pinto than this Lee.

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