When Cliff Lee spurned both the Rangers and Yankees for the Phillies earlier this offseason, it set up the Phillies rotation to be akin to the Miami Heat starting five, except without all the reality shows/live tv specials and hatred, but with state income taxes (albeit a low one). Now teamed up with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and (for the time being) Joe Blanton, everyone outside of the NL East is looking forward to the potential dominance of this rotation. And together, Halladay and Lee could also form one of the most efficient duos ever.
When I think of efficiency for a pitcher, I think of BB/9 and K/BB. You could easily make a case for BB%, K%, strike % or even P/PA, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but BB/9 and K/BB would be the two I pick, especially since they have readily available yearly leaderboards on baseball-reference. And looking at those two, we see that Halladay and Lee could be on the way to some serious history. Halladay has ranked in the top 5 in the Majors in each category each of the last three years, and Lee has almost matched him (he finished seventh in K/BB in 2009). In fact, last season, Lee ranked first in both, with Halladay right behind him, and no one was even remotely close to them:
2010 BB/9 and K/BB Leaders BB/9 Rank Player BB/9 1. Cliff Lee 0.76 2. Roy Halladay 1.08 3. Carl Pavano 1.51 K/BB Rank Player K/BB 1. Cliff Lee 10.28 2. Roy Halladay 7.30 3. Jered Weaver 4.32
Perhaps it didn’t strike anyone as fantastic in the past since both pitched for different teams, but now that they’re on the same team, I wanted to see if them putting up top five finishes in each category together would be unique or not. In order to keep things somewhat balanced in terms of teams in the league, I started with 1969, which was of course the year that MLB expanded to 24 teams by adding the Brewers, Expos, Padres and Pilots. In the 42 years since, 16 teammates have finished in the top five in BB/9 in the same season:
Top 5 BB/9 As Teammates, 1969-2010 Year Tm Player BB/9 Rank Player BB/9 Rank 2007 CLE Paul Byrd 1.31 2 CC Sabathia 1.38 3 2005 MIN Carlos Silva 0.43 1 Brad Radke 1.03 3 2003 NYY David Wells 0.85 1 Mike Mussina 1.68 5 2002 MIN Rick Reed 1.25 2 Eric Milton 1.58 5 1999 HOU Shane Reynolds 1.44 1 Jose Lima 1.61 5 1997 MIN Bob Tewksbury 1.65 4 Brad Radke 1.80 5 1996 HOU Shane Reynolds 1.52 4 Greg Swindell 1.58 5 1993 STL Bob Tewksbury 0.84 1 Rene Arocha 1.48 2 1992 STL Bob Tewksbury 0.77 1 Rheal Cormier 1.60 2 1979 MIL Mike Caldwell 1.49 2 Lary Sorensen 1.61 3 1978 TEX Fergie Jenkins 1.48 1 Jon Matlack 1.70 4 1978 MIL Lary Sorensen 1.60 2 Mike Caldwell 1.66 3 1974 OAK Catfish Hunter 1.30 2 Ken Holtzman 1.80 4 1973 SFG Juan Marichal 1.61 1 Jim Barr 1.91 5 1972 NYY Fritz Peterson 1.58 3 Steve Kline 1.68 5 1971 NYY Fritz Peterson 1.38 2 Steve Kline 1.50 3
In this chart, we obviously see a lot of excellent control pitchers. Carlos Silva made the top 10 for four straight years from 2004-2007. Bob Tewksbury was even better, placing in the top 6 from 1991-1994 and 1996-1997, leading the Majors in both 1992 and 1993. He missed the cut in 1995 only because he didn’t pitch enough innings; if he had, he would have ranked second. The only teammates to have repeat top five finishes in consecutive years were Fritz Peterson and Steve Kline (no relation to the LOOGY of the same name) for the 1971-1972 Yankees, showing that while it’s difficult to team up to be efficient once, it’s been near impossible to do so in consecutive seasons. Finally, it’s interesting to see how the degree of difficulty has increased in recent years. For instance, Juan Marichal’s 1.606 BB/9 ranked first in 1973. From 2004-2006, that figure would have been only good for eighth place, and the best it would have ranked in any year in the past decade is fourth. Last season, Lee’s 0.763 mark was less than half of Marichal’s in 1973.
Moving on to K/BB, we find that teammates dominated here a bit less frequently:
Top 5 K/BB As Teammates, 1969-2010 Year Tm Player K/BB Rank Player K/BB Rank 2005 MIN Carlos Silva 7.89 1 Johan Santana 5.29 2 2003 NYY David Wells 5.05 3 Mike Mussina 4.88 5 2002 ARI Curt Schilling 9.58 1 Randy Johnson 4.70 3 2001 ARI Curt Schilling 7.51 1 Randy Johnson 5.24 4 1999 HOU Shane Reynolds 5.32 2 Jose Lima 4.25 4 1996 ATL Greg Maddux 6.14 1 John Smoltz 5.02 2 1992 STL Bob Tewksbury 4.55 1 Rheal Cormier 3.55 3 1992 CIN Jose Rijo 3.89 2 Greg Swindell 3.37 4 1990 NYM David Cone 3.59 2 Dwight Gooden 3.19 5 1984 LAD Orel Hershiser 3.00 3 Alejandro Pena 2.94 4 1978 TEX Fergie Jenkins 3.83 1 Jon Matlack 3.08 3 1973 CHC Fergie Jenkins 2.98 4 Rick Reuschel 2.71 5
Once again, we see one set of teammates dominating in consecutive years, but this time it’s the much more recognizable duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. As before, we see a single pitcher reach with a teammate in consecutive years (Tewksbury above, Fergie Jenkins here) but with a different teammate each time. For the Twins, that 2005 season was truly remarkable. Not only did Silva and Johan Santana finish one-two, but Radke also finished right behind them in fourth place. Perhaps that’s something that Oswalt and/or Hamels can strive for, as both have finished in the top 10 in K/BB in the past.
Bringing things full circle to Lee and Halladay’s 2010 season, we narrow it down to find that in the 42-year sample, only five sets of teammates have finished in the top five in both BB/9 and K/BB in the same season: Silva and Radke in 2005, David Wells and Mike Mussina in 2003, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima in 1999, Tewksbury and Rheal Cormier in 1982 and Fergie Jenkins and Jon Matlack in 1978. None of the five duos finished one-two in both categories.
Obviously it’s difficult to lead the Majors in anything a single time, let alone in consecutive years, so the odds certainly don’t work in favor of Lee and Halladay repeating their 2010 performance. Nevertheless, this will be something fun to track throughout the season, with perhaps only ad executives at CSN Philadelphia that will have fewer spots to sell, rooting against them.