Lee vs. Halladay

Two days ago, the Philadelphia Phillies traded their ace, Cliff Lee, to the Seattle Mariners as part of a three team trade that netted Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays.  Which is the better pitcher going forward?  Clearly Halladay has been the better pitcher, but who should you count on next year and the year after?  Let’s break these pitchers down to see what we might expect.

To this point, each pitcher has won one Cy Young Award, Halladay in 2003 and Lee in 2008. Lee also had a 4th place finish in 2005, while Halladay has 4 other top 5 finishes. Lee has a career ERA+ of 109, while Halladay’s is 133. Again, Halladay has been better. So what? To start let’s look at similar pitchers.

Halladay, currently 32, has most similar pitchers Tim Hudson, Mike Mussina, Bret Saberhagen, Dizzy Dean, and Don Newcombe. In contrast, Lee, currently 31, has most similars Denny Neagle, Charles Nagy, Mark Mulder, John Burkett, and Schoolboy Rowe. Halladay’s list is certainly better, but it has some very troubling implications. At age 32, Hudson‘s career began to be derailed by injuries. Injuries crushed Saberhagen‘s career by age 31. By age 32, Dean was out of baseball. Newcombe was last effective at age 31, before alcohol swallowed his career. Only Mussina had a career that prospered at an age greater than 32, as he remained effective until his retirement at 39. Despite Halladay’s track record, warning signs exist. His career was marked by injuries in 2004 and 2005, and since then he has averaged 232 innings. A trip to the weaker hitting NL East should help lengthen his career, though he is also moving from the 23rd best hitter’s park to the 12th. With Halladay, I would expect a steep dropoff in the next couple of years.

Cliff Lee is trickier to predict. The similar pitchers tended not to last into their 30’s, but Lee has no injury history. He is only 31, and his FIP has consistently outperformed his xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching). That is, projections have consistently underestimated his performance. Weight seems to be placed on his poor 2007, but it seems to be the aberration. His ERA+ dipped 30 points from 2006 to 2007, while his BB/9 and HR/9 spiked. 2008 and 2009 have been his best seasons, though he spent have of 2009 in a hitter’s park. Now he is going to a pitcher’s park with one of the best fielding teams in the major leagues. Lee is very likely to have an exceptional 2010, and he will only be the Mariners #2 starter, behind Felix Hernandez. Beyond that, I don’t know. His career post-2010 is contingent on where he spends 2011 and beyond.

So who should you like going forward? I expect Halladay to get a brief NL boost, but I similarly expect injuries and heavy usage to take a toll on him. While he will likely be very good in 2010, I worry about him through the rest of his contract extension. Lee, in contrast, should fill out his 1-year contract very well. Beyond that, too many variables remain open to say what will happen in 2011 and beyond.

What do you think? Who is the safer bet going forward?

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2 Comments on “Lee vs. Halladay”

  1. verdun2 Says:

    As a whole I like Lee’s chances best. Among other things, he’s a lefty and teams will take more chances on him even if he’s falling apart.
    I have a bigger question. Why did Philly dump him? As I understand it Toronto got prospects for Halliday. Didn’t the Phils have some prospects they could send to Canada and keep Lee while adding Halladay? That’s a heck of a formidable 1-2 punch with both a Lefty and a Right-hander. Frankly I’d rather have Lee as my ace southpaw than Hamels.

  2. sportsphd Says:

    I don’t get trading Lee either. The Phillies are a team built to win now. There best pitcher is 32 years old, Howard is 30, Utley and Rollins 31. Soon, this whole crew will be on the downside of their career. I know they were frustrated they could not lock Lee up long-term. Who cares? I would shoot to win a World Series this season, and let next year fend for itself.

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