OK, Cliff Lee is a problem

Andy Behrens

Clearly, no one thinks that Cliff Lee is this good.

Not you, not him, not the Indians, not the guy in your league who owns Jake Peavy...no one.

Lee is basically putting up Addie Joss' old numbers, but with more strikeouts. After throwing a three-hit shutout versus the Royals last night, Lee is 4-0 with a 0.28 ERA, a 0.41 WHIP, and a 14.50 K/BB ratio. He's allowed only 11 hits in 31.2 innings. He hasn't given up a home run, and his opponents' BABIP is .154. He's the No. 3 overall player in the Yahoo! ranks, behind only Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez.

None of this can continue.

So does that make Lee a must-trade player?

Not so fast. If you're getting someone like Garrett Atkins or Magglio Ordonez -- and those are two of the most recent Yahoo! one-for-one deals -- then sure, it's time to cash out. Lee hasn't actually faced one of the A.L.'s better lineups yet. The numbers can't really get any better than they are right now.

Still, you shouldn't flip him for scraps just to say that you sold high.

Unlike the guys discussed in this post, Lee has at least one remarkably good fantasy season to his credit (18 W, 143 K, 3.79 ERA, 1.22 WHIP in 2005), and he's striking out nearly a batter per inning (29 Ks in 31.2 IP). Lee does his pitching for a team that should offer terrific run support, too.

Here's what he had to say after last night's gem:

"I'm not stupid enough to think I'm going to keep going out there and not give up any runs. I just have to prepare and do the best I can." Did he feel tired, going into the ninth? "No, I felt better as the game went on. My stuff and location improved."

If you own him, work aggressively to deal him for something great over the next few days. The upcoming schedule for the Indians is a bit of a fantasy pitching minefield. It looks like Lee's next five starts could go like this: vs. SEA, at NYY, vs. TOR, at CIN, at CWS.

So there are tough lineups and treacherous pitching environments ahead. Eventually, some team is going to hit Cliff Lee.

But I've never found it easy to trade starting pitchers who are producing Ks at the rate Lee has. In his last three games, he's struck out eight A's, then eight Twins, and then nine Royals. This is why he's such a problem; you just can't give that kind of production away. Lee whiffed 161 hitters in 179.0 innings in 2004, so it's not like the Ks are an entirely new phenomenon.

If you can't package Lee for a star (see above), then you need to hold onto him. These Ks make him a very different kind of four-win pitcher than, say, Joe Saunders or Mark Hendrickson. With those two, take whatever you can get. With Lee, be just a bit more discerning.