Who's better: Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee?

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Clearly the Phillies’ decision to part with Cliff Lee and bring in Roy Halladay goes beyond each pitcher’s value for 2010.
Halladay is apparently willing to sign a long-term deal to remain in Philadelphia while Lee is reportedly intent on testing the free agent market next offseason, which makes it more complicated than simply asking “who’s better?”
With that said … well, I’m still interested in asking “who’s better?” Here’s what Halladay and Lee did in 2009:

2009              GS      IP      ERA     xFIP     SO9     BB9     OAVG
Roy Halladay      32     239     2.79     3.05     7.8     1.3     .256
Cliff Lee         34     232     3.22     3.69     7.0     1.7     .272



Those are regular season numbers, so they don’t include Lee going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the playoffs. And during the regular season Halladay had more strikeouts with fewer walks while being tougher to hit, so not surprisingly his ERA was 14 percent lower than Lee’s. He also topped Lee by 17 percent in Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), which is basically like ERA with luck, ballparks, defenses, and bullpens removed from the equation. Lee was great in 2009, but Halladay was even better.
Here are the same numbers from 2008:

2008              GS      IP      ERA     xFIP     SO9     BB9     OAVG
Roy Halladay      33     246     2.78     3.14     7.5     1.4     .237
Cliff Lee         31     223     2.54     3.57     6.9     1.4     .253



Lee won the AL Cy Young in 2008 thanks to his sparkling 22-3 record and league-leading 2.54 ERA, but the secondary numbers show that Halladay was every bit as good and perhaps even better in some respects. Lee bested Halladay by 8 percent in ERA, but Halladay had more strikeouts with the same number of walks and was harder to hit, so he topped Lee by 12 percent in xFIP.
Ultimately both guys are among the truly elite pitchers in all of baseball, so comparing them and choosing a winner is going to ruffle some feathers either way. However, it seems clear to me that for however amazing Lee has been over the past two seasons Halladay has been even better and Halladay also has a far superior pre-2008 track record.
Some people have wondered why the Phillies would bother to orchestrate such a huge trade after what Lee did in the playoffs, but upgrading from an A-plus starter to an A-plus-plus starter while keeping him around long term is plenty of motivation.

Michael Bourn opts out of his minor league deal with the Orioles

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Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.

Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.

As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.

Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.

Rob Manfred talks about playing regular season games in Mexico

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The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.

Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.

“We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”

A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.

Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.

Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.