Not Quite Yet, Cliff

This afternoon, Eric presented the case for Cliff Lee, asking the somewhat rhetorical question of whether he’s already wrapped up the Cy Young award. Well, Roy Halladay called, and he told me to tell Eric “not so fast, buddy”.

First, the comparison of traditional stats.

Wins: Lee (16) over Halladay (13)
ERA: Lee (2.45) over Halladay (2.72)
Innings: Halladay (182) over Lee (161 2/3)
Strkeouts: Halladay (155) over Lee (128)
Complete Games: Halladay (7) over Lee (2)

If you don’t like to go beyond the 1950s numbers to evaluate pitchers, then you have to decide whether you like quality (Lee) or quantity (Halladay). Lee’s surface numbers are a bit better, but Halladay’s pitched more. I’d imagine most voters who base their decisions on Wins and ERA will go with Lee, but for those of us who think pitchers should be evaluated by metrics a little more current, let’s take a look at how they’ve performed in things they can control.

BB/9: Lee (1.22) over Halladay (1.53)
K/9: Halladay (7.66) over Lee (7.13)
HR/9: Lee (0.39) over Hallday (0.64)
WPA/LI: Halladay (3.97) over Lee (3.90)

Lee has a lead in the two command factors of FIP, walks and home runs, by slight but significant margins. Halladay has a similar lead in dominance, getting more strikeouts and ground balls. Hallday’s FIP of 2.99 is half a run higher than Lee’s 2.48, almost all of which is tied to Lee’s home run prevention. On a per inning basis, Lee’s got the advantage, no doubt.

However, as WPA/LI shows, the extra 20 innings that Halladay has thrown matter. If Lee had thrown the same 182 innings that Halladay has completed, his advantage based on FIP would be FIP (or ERA, as both have ERAs close to their actual performance) would be about 8 or 9 runs. Halladay, however, needs to get credit for pitching more often, so we need to adjust the difference in innings to account for the other pitchers Cleveland has had to use in lieu of Lee going deeper into the game.

Lee has allowed 46 runs in his 162 2/3 IP, but the Indians bullpen has been terrible this year, allowing 5.38 runs per nine innings as a group. If we multiply that RA times the 20 inning difference between Lee and Halladay, we get an additional 12 runs given up. That would push Lee + bullpen’s total to 58 runs allowed in 182 innings, which is just six runs better than Halladay’s runs allowed total.

The extra innings Halladay has pitched close the gap, but not entirely – Lee still has the lead right now, even after accounting for quantity. However, with a month and a half to go in the season, there’s still certainly time for Halladay to make up the difference and then some.

Lee’s season has been great, but Doc Halladay isn’t that far behind. Let’s not give him the Cy Young just yet.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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14 years ago

This feels like the Bad Back-up Effect.

Some pitchers have bullpens that are better than they are. This sort of analysis would actually help them, no?