by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
December 18, 2009
Amidst a blockbuster deal with so many moving parts, it's difficult to get a
firm grasp on who came out ahead. The Mariners have clearly positioned
themselves as 2010 contenders, but did they pay too hefty a price for one roll
of the dice? The Blue Jays have declared themselves to be in full-blown
rebuilding mode, but how long before they can again field a competitive team?
Of course, the Phillies' side is most baffling of all. They swapped one group
of prospects for another and one ace pitcher for another. It might take a
health care bill-sized article to cover all of the nuances of this trade, so
I'll just take a stab at one: Cliff Lee versus Roy Halladay.
I believe the popular comparison of the two pitchers goes like this: "While
Cliff Lee has been nearly Roy Halladay's equal for two seasons, Halladay has
been the superior pitcher for every other span of time and will be the better
pitcher going forward." Lee's status has certainly improved since last
winter, when he was regarded as a one-year fluke by all. But he still may
not be getting his fair due.
We begin by comparing the two Cy Young winners' 2009 seasons:
For 2009 at least, it is Halladay who hasn't gotten his due. He somehow
finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting when there is no plausible reason that he
did not finish at least third. His K/BB ratio was Schillingesque and he
matched a career high with nine complete games, pacing the league as usual.
Lee did pitch better than his numbers indicate. His record was mediocre
purely because he played for the Indians. After joining the Phillies, his
K/BB ratio nearly hit 8:1. Perhaps more impressively, he only allowed
seven home runs over 120 innings, including the playoffs.
Of course, if we include the playoffs, Lee's numbers suddenly match up quite
well with Halladay's. Lee becomes 18-13 with a 2.98 ERA, 214 strikeouts,
and 49 walks in a whopping 272 innings. We can't fault Halladay for never having
pitched in the postseason any more than we can fault Lee for having played on
the 2009 Indians, but Lee's playoff numbers illustrate that he was not only
succeeding because he moved to the weaker National League. The Rockies,
Dodgers, and Yankees lineups were nothing to scoff at, and Lee handled them all
This is obviously the comparison we expected to shed Lee in the best light,
and he doesn't disappoint. The two pitchers actually had equal pitcher's
runs created in 2008, but Lee's 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA help boost his numbers
towards Halladay's. If you decide to give Lee credit for his postseason
work, there is really no sound argument that Halladay was the better pitcher in
this span. We've heard the arguments that Halladay had to pitch against
tougher competition than Lee did in 2008, but he also got to play with a better
defense behind him. The Blue Jays turned 71.6% of his balls in play into
outs while the Indians converted just 69.9% of Lee's.
I submit that Lee was not nearly Halladay's equal over the past two seasons,
but legitimately his equal.
Lee was injured and ultra-ineffective in 2007, so this is Halladay's time to
shine. In fact, Halladay created more runs in 2008 and 2009 than Lee did
between 2007 and 2009. Doc's edge is not as great as it could be, since
2007 was actually had his worst season in the past five years. But when
you win 70% of your games and finish fifth in Cy Young voting, it's hard to be
too down on your season.
Lee actually loses some ground here as well. He was an average pitcher
at best in 2006, while Halladay had a typical season for him.
Here Lee makes some gains in counting stats, as he was a good pitcher on a
very good Indians team while Halladay missed the second half of the season with
an injury. The gap widens as far as rate stats go, however, as Halladay
had been enjoying his best season prior to the injury.
This is where things get a little interesting again. A bastion of
pitcher durability over the past four seasons, Roy Halladay actually suffered
injuries two years in a row back in 2004-2005. Lee actually had a poor
year in 2004, his first full season, yet the disparity in playing time really
levels the two in terms of counting stats. The two pitchers had nearly
identical records, workloads, and strikeout rates (particularly if we were to
add in Lee's 40.1 postseason innings from 2009), while Halladay had a clear edge
in ERA, walk rate, and home run rate.
Do the walks and homers account for Halladay's huge edge in ERA? Not
entirely. 2008 wasn't the only season in which Halladay's defense was more
adept at converting balls in play into outs. Lee's teams have only once
managed a defensive efficiency ratio greater than .704 while Halladay's have
done so three times since 2004: .738 in 2005, .724 in 2006, and .716 in 2008.
Additionally, Cleveland's Progressive Field has been slightly less favorable to
pitchers than Toronto's Rogers Centre has. I'm not saying that these
factors eliminate the gap between Lee and Halladay, but they do close it a
We can't compare the pitchers any further back than that, because Lee was
just breaking into the league in 2003. If we were to do so, he would get
smoked by Halladay, who won the Cy Young Award that year and was even better in
some regards the previous season. But this brings up a point that hasn't
been mentioned much: Roy Halladay is more than a year Cliff Lee's elder.
If you were going to sign one pitcher to a contract through 2013, you would want
it to be Cliff Lee, all else being equal.
Of course, all else isn't quite equal. Halladay has the better track
record and we don't know exactly how much a three-year extension for Lee would
have cost Philadelphia. We do know that the team prefers Halladay's
right-handedness and his groundball style of pitching. But who is the
greater injury risk: Halladay and his 30,000 career pitches before the age of 33
or Cliff Lee's drastic career-high in innings reached last year by nearly 50
frames? That question is very difficult to answer.
Lee's comments to ESPN yesterday were somewhat shocking, however. Lee
said that he was "fully prepared to spend the rest of his career" in
Philadelphia and that the rumors about him wanting to break the bank were false.
If Lee could have been had for significantly less than the $20 million per
season that Halladay received, then the Phillies would appear to have made a lot
of sacrifices primarily for the benefit of having a right-hander rather than a
lefty in their rotation. That seems pretty silly, as Jamie Moyer is no
guarantee to spend all year in the rotation and will certainly depart after this
I'll say this, though: even if this wasn't a great move on Philadelphia's
part, it was good for both pitchers involved. The Phillies have one of the
best infield defenses in the game, particularly if Placido Polanco can be as
sound as a full-time third baseman as he was part-time earlier in his career.
That will benefit Halladay, as will the weaker NL lineups. Lee is used to
facing lineups with a designated hitter, and will benefit from one of the best
pitcher's parks in baseball as well as baseball's best outfield defense.
In the end, as earth-shattering as this trade appears, it barely changes the
outlook of the Phillies or either pitcher's Hall of Fame chances. Besides
the Mariners and Blue Jays, perhaps the team most immediately affected here is
the Yankees, as they no longer have to face a pitcher who has gone 18-6 with a
2.84 ERA against them in 35 career starts.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.