Now I could take the controversial approach and give the #2 slot to Sabathia, but it would simply be a lie. While Lee undoubtedly had one of the best seasons as a pitcher in 2008, his career over the past seven seasons has been some kind of rollercoaster ride since the Indians acquired him in the Bartolo Colon deal in 2002. While Lee would win 14, 18 and 14 games in his first three full seasons with the Tribe, he would find himself in the minors after struggling in 2007. While those numbers alone place him in the same category as Jake Westbrook, his sublime 2008 season would see him dominate the A.L. from day one. The All-Aught Indians #2 starter is left-hander Cliff Lee.
Lee would make his first splash with the Tribe in September of 2002 after rolling through the minors. Lee would make two starts, going 0-1, but the won-loss wasn't indicative of how good Lee pitched. Lee would struggle a bit with control in his 10 1/3 innings, walking 8, but his 1.74 ERA would give the Tribe brass a glimpse of just how good Lee could be. Unfortunately, Lee would start the 2003 season on the DL, making only one appearance during spring training. Lee would make a spot start for the Tribe in June, getting his first major league win, then return to the Tribe for good on August 16th. Overall, Lee would go 3-3 with a 3.61 ERA in nine starts. In 52 1/3 innings pitched, Lee would strike out 44, while walking only 20 batters. It was clear that Lee was ready for a full season stint.
Lee would win fourteen games in 2004, tying him with Jake Westbrook for the team lead. Lee would also lead the Indians with 161 strikeouts, averaging eight per nine-innings pitched. Lee started off the season like a house of fire, going 5-0. On May 17th, the big lefty was 5-0 with a sub-3 ERA. Lee would continue his winning ways through July. Lee would win his July 16th start, making him 10-1, with a 3.81 ERA. Lee would scuffle for the rest of the year, going 4-7, although he would win his last three games of the season.
Lee's 2005 season is often overlooked, especially after his Cy Young award season in 2008. Lee would finish the season 18-5, as well as fourth in the voting for that season's Cy Young, ironically enough, won by former Indians Bartolo Colon. Lee was as consistent as any pitcher could be throughout the year. On July 8th, Lee would lose his fourth game of the season. He wouldn't lose another game until his last start of the season. Lee would win nine straight games before that last start. How consistent? When he lost on Independence Day, his ERA sat at 3.89. His final ERA was 3.79 on the season. Lee would strike out 143 batters, and walk only 52.
Lee would again win 14 games in 2006, and while it was a consistent season, it was a bit of a regression after leading the Indians staff in 2005. While his 14-11 record may have been a step back, he was one of only four starters to win 14 or more games in the previous three seasons.
Lee would enter the 2007 season at a crossroads. Was he a staff ace of the 2005 season, or was he the lefty version of Jake Westbrook, as he was in 2004 and 2006. If 2007 was any indication, he wasn't either. Lee would injure himself in February prior to the season, and wouldn't make a spring training start. He would start the season off on the DL, and after a month of rehab starts, essentially his spring training, Lee would make his debut on May 3. Lee would provide a glimpse of how good he could pitch in his second start, throwing a complete game three-hitter, but there was nothing but struggle for Lee throughout that season. Lee's scuffling as a starter would end at the end of July after four straight losses (his second four-game losing streak of the season). the Indians sent Lee to the minors. He'd return in September as a reliever, but the Indians left him off their playoff roster.
If only they had the Lee of 2008 in 2007. Lee would spend the 2008 spring training battling trade rumors and fighting for the #5 slot in the rotation. While he wasn't the clear-cut winner in a battle with Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, he would still receive likely his last shot. Boy would he run with it. Lee was scintillating during April and the first part of May. He would start the season off winning his first five starts, and after a nine-inning, no run, no decision, his record would stand at 6-0 with a 0.67 ERA. I could go on and on about this season, but the final numbers speak for themselves. Lee would end the season at 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, and win the Cy Young Award. He would strike out 170, and walk only 34. His winning percentage was the third highest in the history of baseball for a 20-game winner. It really doesn't get any better than that.
Lee would end his Tribe career in 2009 under trade rumors. While he would showcase the Cy Young talent, you could tell that he was struggling a bit with the rumors of his departure. Lee would win his three last starts for the Tribe in June, with two complete games and a seven inning stint that would lower his ERA nearly half a run. It was also his final straw with the Indians. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro would deal Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies in late June, ending his tenure with the Indians.
Overall, Lee would finish his eight seasons with the Tribe with an 83-48 record, with 826 K's, and 322 walks. His overall ERA was 4.01. He would make one appearance in the All-Star game, finish fourth in Cy Young voting in 2005, and win the award in 2008. If not for the brilliance of CC Sabathia, Lee would be a clear choice for the top slot in the All-Decade rotation