It’s Not You, It’s Me


“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” – John Greenleaf Whittier

Some say it should take half the amount of time you were with someone to get over them.  Others say it should take about six months per every two years you were together.

Either way, we should have been over Cliff Lee by Valentine’s Day.

Let’s start but looking at the chain of events that ultimately led to me writing this today:

  • May 14, 1977 – Harry Leroy Halladay III was born
  • August 30, 1978 – Clifton Phifer Lee was born
  • 1995 – Halladay drafted by the Toronto Blue Days
  • 1997 – Lee drafted by the Florida Marlins (but did not sign)
  • 1998 – Lee drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (but still did not sign)
  • September 20, 1998 – Halladay makes his major league debut vs. Tampa Bay (5 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, 93 Pitches [54 strikes], W 7-5)
  • 2000 – Lee drafted by the Montreal Expos (he was just holding out for a contender, apparently)
  • September 15, 2002 – Lee makes his major league debut with Cleveland vs. Twins (5.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO, 82 Pitches [82 strikes], L 0-5)
  • 2003 – Halladay wins the AL Cy Young Award
  • 2004 – Halladay placed on DL twice with shoulder problems
  • July 8th, 2005 – Halladay suffers broken leg from a line drive and sits out remainder of season
  • 2007 – Lee began the season on the DL with a groin sprain (ouch)
  • 2008 – Lee wins the AL Cy Young Award (Halladay finished second in the voting)
  • June 12, 2009 – Halladay placed on 15-day DL (pulled groin)
  • July 29, 2009 – Lee is traded to the Philadelphia Phillies
  • July 31, 2009 – Lee makes his debut with the Phillies vs. Giants (9 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO, 109 Pitches [76 strikes], W 5-1)
  • December 15, 2009 – Lee is traded to the Seattle Mariners
  • December 16, 2009 – Halladay is traded to the Philadelphia Phillies
  • 2010 – Lee began the season on the DL with an abdominal injury
  • April 5, 2010 – Halladay makes his debut with the Phillies vs. Nationals (7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO, 88 Pitches [59 strikes], W 11-1)
  • April 30, 2010 – Lee scheduled to make his first start of the season

(I figured since we all like to compare the two phenoms to one another so much it was only appropriate to construct a list like that.)

In the past week I have seen more graphics comparing Cliff Lee to Roy Halladay than I have when the blockbuster trades initially happened, which seems absurd to me considering Lee hasn’t even pitched yet in 2010.  Further, Halladay has only pitched four games for the Phillies and Lee only pitched 12 (postseason excluded).  If anyone is going to be comparing anything it should be their career stats (I can feel Andrea cringing right now) before they ever walked thru the doors (turnstiles?) of Citizens Bank Park.

Before coming to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee had started 178 games over 8 ½ years for the Cleveland Indians and posted a W-L record of 83-48.  He averaged 6.1 innings per start, and 9.2 H, 1 HR, 2.6 BB, and 6.7 K per 9 innings with a 4.01 ERA.

Back in Toronto, Roy Halladay was busy starting 287 games over 12 seasons hustling his way to a 148-76 W-L record.  He averaged 7.1 innings per start, 7 H, 0.6 HR, 1.6 BB, and 5.2 K per 9 innings with a 3.43 ERA.

Right off the bat (pun intended) we can see that even though Cliff Lee has only started two-thirds as many games as Doc, Roy has him beat on every single stat.  But let’s face it – unless something truly drastic happens and one (or both) of these guys have a year (or two, or three) that are so bad as to drag their overall results down, Cliffy Poo will always be second to Halladay.

I suppose I can hop on the “look how weird it is that Doc and Lee have identical numbers” train, now, even though I’ll have you know I hate having any part in it.  Through their first three games with the Phillies, both Halladay and Lee were both 3-0 with 24 innings pitched and had 1.13 ERAs.  Through their first four games in pinstripes, both were 4-0 with 33 innings pitched and 0.82 ERAs.  I’ll admit it’s pretty cool, kind of freaky, and totally coincidental.

I could harp on how much better Halladay is than Lee (because when you look at the big picture, it isn’t just “marginally better” its “a whole hell of a lot better”), or that I agree with Amaro’s logic that in order to get Lee we had to give up a lot, and in order to get Doc we had to give up more, so to get back what we lost we had to give up someone big and that someone was Lee.  I could go on about how I don’t think Lee would have taken a discount to stick around in Philly after this year and how I think Ruben is absolutely correct in reasoning that the organization needs to think long-term and not get wrapped up in the “do whatever it takes to win yesterday” mentality that a lot of players and fans focus on.  I could point out that in the short time since Lee has left Philly he has landed himself on the DL and gotten into (and out of) a 5-game suspension situation for head hunting (badly).

But I won’t.

Instead I want to compare the career stats of Clifton Phifer Lee to your Philadelphia Phillies starting (and temporary starting) rotation.  A little housekeeping first: I’m going to go ahead and include Figgy in there since he is taking the hill on Saturday, but try not to let his figure distract you too much.  Also, bear in mind that Happ and Kendrick both have very few starts so their numbers are still pretty heavily influenced with every game they play.  I also did not include Moyer’s start against the Braves on 4/22.

Now, I’ll admit, Lee’s numbers are (obviously) pretty damn good.  How else does the kid win a Cy Young Award and cause such havoc on a city when he skips town after less than six months?  I mostly want you all to keep in mind that the plan the whole time was to acquire Halladay and we were incredibly lucky to have a Plan B with so much promise.  What I want you to notice is how when compared to the rest of the 2010 “rotation” he is clearly better than average, but never better than Halladay or Hamels (who a good portion of fans claim should have been traded to Seattle in lieu of Lee).  With that being said, here’s what I’ve been staring at for the past two days:

Career Stats

Averages Per Start

Averages Per 9 Innings

Now I know this is a lot to look at, especially if you don’t have a round-the-clock female hard-on for spreadsheets like I do, but let’s work through it together.

First of all, I think W-L records are crap, so I’m not going to discuss it even though I’ve included it on the graphic for you to make of it what you will.  There are too many variables that are not left up to the pitcher to reasonable use this stat to compare pitchers to one another.  Don’t worry; if you disagree I’ll have a whole post dedicated specifically to the bullshittery of the W-L record soon.

 ERA: As much as I’d like to throw Happ’s out for having only started 30 games in his career, it’s kind of hard to overlook a 3.06 no matter how new you are to the show.  There is no surprise here though that Halladay follows closely behind with 3.39 and Hamels with 3.67.  Lee would be batting cleanup with a 3.97 career ERA.

One of the more surprising figures I looked at closely was what I call the “inning eater stat.” I’m sure there is some sabermetricky name for this like IPCGSO+++ or something, but I’m not that dedicated to look it up (or test it and create it… maybe one day).  But I was intrigued by the average innings pitched per start, percentage of complete games vs. starts, and percentage of shut outs to complete games.  To be perfectly honest I think these plus ERA should count way more than W-L record (but as I mentioned before, that’s a conversation for another day).  Just take a look at this condensed figure real quick and let it sink in for a second:

Super Duper Innings Eater Stat (official name TBA)

Who would have thought by looking at just about every other number to judge a pitcher by that the most innings pitched per start list would go this way: Figueroa, Halladay, Happ, Moyer, Hamels, Blanton, Lee, and Kendrick.  Sure Halladay and Kendrick aren’t too surprising where they rank, but Lee is second to last. That means that technically, no matter how much you want to argue about it, with Lee in the rotation the bullpen would be working harder.  (I don’t need to make spreadsheets to explain to you all why the bullpen does not need to be working any harder than it already is this year.)  Sure he tosses a complete game almost 7% of the time (third best on this list) but realistically that averages out to about 2 games a year.  It doesn’t matter that he pitched two complete games for the Phillies in his short time here – he put up better than average numbers during that stretch and would be bound to “fall off” eventually.  Ring any bells?  *Ahem* Raul Ibanez? (OK, ok, easy kids, it’s a joke, and a bad one at that).

The Phillies have Harry Leroy Halladay III who goes the distance 17.5% of the time.  That’s 5.67 – hell, let’s round up – that’s almost 6 games a year which is a huge deal even if it may not look like a lot when you consider the season is a 162 game marathon.  Combined (minus Lee) the Phillies starting and temporarily starting pitchers are on pace to throw a full nine innings roughly every 13 games.  They will go about 6 and two-thirds innings on average which sets the bullpen up perfectly to be used the way a ‘pen is meant to be used – reliever, setup man, closer.  Of course just as we can “expect” a complete game every 13th day, we can also reasonable expect things to go awry once in a while, but it’s important to have innings eaters like the Phillies statistically have to keep the ‘pen rested and ready for those emergency situations.

We could look at hits, strike outs, and walks per nine innings, or averages per starts, but the numbers are going to keep lining up the same way.  The truth of the matter is that Lee was only here for an incredibly brief period of time, and while we can sit here all day and debate his role in “leading us to the playoffs” and “what would have been the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball,” it doesn’t bring him back.  We can hope that he has a mediocre year, or maybe even sub-par after coming off his injuries (don’t forget his foot surgery in the off-season in addition to the abdominal strain that’s kept him sidelined thus far) and maybe it’ll be enough for the free agency market to dry up just enough for the Phillies to snatch him back up for a bargain – but let’s be real.  To be perfectly honest there really was no statistical reason to get rid of Lee.  It really did come down to money, prospects, and the fulfillment of the prophecy of Roy – but that’s no reason to become discouraged.

It used to be that players could not wait to get as far away from the Phillies as possible – now they have Cy Young Award winners just walking through a rotating door and clamoring for those red pinstripes.  There were no “special” players in 2008 leading the team to the World Series championship the city had been pining for for decades.  There was no intricate, virtual game of chess being played like there has been ever since trying to get that third pennant.  The Phillies didn’t need Cliff Lee to get them a ring two years ago and the organization clearly felt they didn’t need him to get one in 2010, either.  At the end of the day, Cliff Lee was a love affair, a fling, the guy you get to take you out on dates until the boy you’ve had a crush on asks you to the prom.  So instead of mourning the great Loss of Lee every time Kendrick or Moyer start to show signs of distress, or when Happ lands himself on the DL, just remember that it’s a team that wins championships, not just one player.  Let’s all remember that at the end of the day Lee was very vague about his intentions to remain in Philadelphia once he was eligible for free agency and Halladay was literally so hurt to not be a Phillie that he couldn’t even bear to watch the 2009 World Series.

Besides, no one ever wrote a blog called “I want to go to the zoo with Cliff Lee.”

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2 Responses

  1. GREAT LAST LINE!

    I was one of the skeptics. Not that I didn’t think Halladay was a damn good pitcher (because he is a damn good pitcher), but I really think the front office screwed Lee. Like they did with Pete Happy and Pat Burrell. It seems to be Ruben’s style, to which I will have to adjust. Halladay has done a fantastic job so far, but it’s a 162 game season. I’m not ready to annoint him the Second Coming of Jesus until I see how the rest of this season goes. Cautious optimism is how I’m approaching this. I do thank him though for giving our bullpen every 5th night off. They need the rest.

  2. Hats off to you O’Malley. Obviously put a lot of work into an excellent article that anyone still bemoaning Lee’s departure should be directed to. I’m not a sabermetrics fan per se, however the “Innings Eater Stat” was not only a good yardstick, it was a real eye opener. Thanks

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