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.