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.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.