Lee, Halladay really performed equally well

November, 13, 2008
Our old friend Richard Griffin previews today's big announcement

    The '08 AL Cy Young results are announced today and Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay deserves to win … but won't. Instead, Halladay's solid 20-11 record and 2.81 ERA will duke it out for second place with Angels reliever Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez and Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka, behind winner Cliff Lee of the Indians.

    It may not seem fair to those that watched him stroll to the mound 33 times, but luckily Halladay already won a Cy back in '03. Otherwise he might feel slighted given the understated, underappreciated, deserving performance he contributed this season.

    Doc has problems in personal presentation, but he doesn't care. The low-key Jays righthander doesn't have the flashy nickname, the flamboyant quotes or automatic national media exposure in the States that tends to attract the voters' attention. Halladay has the type of on- and off-field, first-hand pitching personality that needs to be seen to be appreciated. He gets Cy Young votes the old-fashioned way.

    He earns them.

Griffin next lays out his five arguments for Halladay over Lee. They're mostly nonsensical, including this gem: "Removing the stat lines from Halladay's six worst starts (an average of one per month), he was 19-7, with a 1.88 ERA in 191 1/3 innings."

Well, yes. And if we remove Cliff Lee's six worst starts (also an average of one per month), he was 19-1 with a 1.59 ERA. Columnists love to apply statistical tests, but they sometimes forget the necessary second step, which is to apply the tests fairly.

Oddly enough, even with all those statistical tests, Griffin somehow has missed the single best argument for Halladay: He faced better hitters. He faced significantly better hitters.

This year in the American League, 39 pitchers pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

The hitters Halladay faced finished the season with a .766 OPS, No. 2 out of 39.

Lee's opposition finished with a .735 collective OPS, No. 38 out of 39.

There are 14 teams in the American League. Quick and dirty, we can split them down the middle; the top seven teams in the league are the Good Hitting Teams, the bottom seven the Poor Hitting Teams. Of Lee's 27 starts against American League teams, 14 came against Poor Hitting Teams. Of Halladay's 30 starts against American League teams, only 12 were against Poor Hitting Teams.

The best-hitting teams in the AL were the Rangers and the Red Sox. Halladay started against them seven times; Lee, just three times. The worst-hitting teams in the AL were the Royals, the Mariners, and the Athletics. Lee started against those teams nine times; Halladay, only four times.

Halladay pitched 23 more innings than Lee, against tougher competition. He walked five more batters than Lee, and struck out 36 more. Halladay completed nine games; Lee completed four.

Now let me make the argument for Lee, without even mentioning wins and losses.

There's not much difference between their ERAs: 2.54 for Lee, 2.78 for Halladay. If Lee had given up six more earned runs all season -- just one earnie every month -- their ERAs would have been identical.

But unearned runs count on the scoreboard, too. Lee gave up only five of them, and Halladay gave up 12. Add everything up, and Halladay gave up 20 more runs than Lee. Halladay's "run average" -- all runs included -- was 3.22; Lee's was 2.74. That's a significant difference, in a conversation like this. We've grown a lot, we baseball fans, over these past 25 years. But we continue to completely ignore unearned runs, and there's really no reason for it.

There's no wrong answer here, though. Superficially, Lee's numbers are more impressive. Dig a little deeper, and Halladay's are almost exactly as impressive. If you could have one of them for one game tomorrow, you'd have to pick Halladay. But the award's not given for talent. It's given for performance, and Lee's performance was almost exactly as impressive as Halladay's.

Lee won the award, because baseball writers have traditionally favored Cy Young candidates who win a great number of games and lose very few. Lee won more games than Halladay, and lost many fewer. Richard Griffin's a traditionalist, usually. I can't avoid the sneaking suspicion that if he covered any team but the Blue Jays, he would be throwing his full support behind the guy who went 22-3.



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