Upon hearing that Roy Halladay had been traded from Toronto to Philadelphia, my initial thought was “has a pitcher ever gone through an entire season without giving up a hit?” Ok, slight exaggeration, but he went from a league in which he had to face nine hitters a game to a league in which he will have to face seven. To top that off, he won’t ever have to face the National League’s best offense, since they will be providing his run support. Later, it was revealed that he would also be signing a three-year extension with the Phillies, while the ace they traded away, Cliff Lee, had made it clear he would test the free agent market. Sounds like win-win-win-win for the Phillies, right?
(Sidebar: If it’s not already very apparent, I’m of the opinion that the American League is significantly better than the National League. We have several years of poundings in interleague play that suggest this, so please don’t point at the relatively even split of World Series winners for the last few years. National League fans, please don’t think I say this simply to demean you; I believe this is a cyclical phenomenon, and it will come back around. I also think there are several reasons for it, but that’s another topic for another day.)
This morning I read Buster Olney’s daily column, in which he asked several talent evaluators what their expectations were for Halladay’s 2010. The answers:
Evaluator No. 1: “I would set the over/under on his ERA at 2.50. I’m not comfortable predicting wins because it’s based on too many things he can’t control. If forced to guess, I’ll go with 18.”
Evaluator No. 2: “Twenty wins, 3.00 ERA. He is going from a pitchers’ park to a home run park, but is a ground ball guy. He will be in the Cy Young Top 3.”
Evaluator No. 3: “I’d project a 2.10 ERA with 22 wins.”
Evaluator No. 4: “While I think Halladay’s move to the NL will allow him to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time than if he stayed within the AL East, the advantage of pitching in the NL might begin to be counterbalanced somewhat by the fact that he’s getting older and will inevitably begin to slow down at some point. After all, he is going to turn 33, and though we may not see much of a change statistically this coming season, I also don’t think he’s going to throw up a sub-2.00 ERA while throwing 280 innings either. Something in the 2.50 ERA range with comparable innings pitched as the last couple of seasons seems reasonable for 2010. I can see him winning 21-22 games.”
Evaluator No. 5: “Twenty-three wins with around a 2.00 ERA.”
Evaluator No. 6: “Twenty wins, sub-2.50 ERA. He gets to pitch to No. 8 and No. 9 hitters nearly 20 percent of the time.”
Evaluator No. 7: “Twenty-plus wins, sub-3.00 ERA. He will win the Cy Young Award.”
Evaluator No. 8: “I am thinking 18 wins with an ERA of 3.00-3.20.”
Evaluator No. 9: “Eighteen wins, five losses, an ERA of 2.90.”
Needless to say, these are some big-time projections. It wasn’t until I saw the numbers in print that I questioned my initial thought. How much better can this guy really get? To answer that, I tried to quantify the changes the trade will have both on Halladay and the Phillies.
First, yes, Roy Halladay will get to face pitchers instead of designated hitters. Advantage 2010. In the American League in 2009, the average team gave up 178 home runs; the average in the National League was 159. Batting averages, on-base percentages, and slugging percentages were higher in the AL by 0.007/0.002/0.014, respectively. So he’ll be facing worse hitters in a league that hits fewer home runs; however, he’ll be moving from a ballpark in Toronto that favored pitchers to a ballpark in Philadelphia that favors hitters. The home run factors for these parks are about 5% different, which accounts for roughly half of the home runs Roy Halladay had hoped to avoid by switching leagues.
Secondly, I wanted to see how Halladay fared the last couple of seasons against the vaunted offenses he will now avoid. Against the Yankees and Red Sox in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Halladay went 13-6 with a 2.59 ERA. Including Tampa Bay, he had a 2.97 ERA while starting 31 of his 65 games against these three teams. They weren’t exactly his kryptonite. In comparison, over the last two years against everyone else, Halladay had an ERA of 2.62 – in line with his numbers against the Red Sox and Yankees.
Third, I compared Halladay with the best pitcher in the National League, Tim Lincecum. Again using the last two years, Lincecum strikes out 10.5 batters per nine innings, walks 3 batters per nine innings, and somehow manages to give up only 0.42 home runs per nine innings. Halladay’s numbers for the same three categories were 7.7, 1.4, and 0.74. Lincecum plays his home games in a cavern and two of the other parks in his division are also pitcher-friendly (Dodger Stadium and Petco Park). Halladay generates about 10% more groundballs (these have a tendency to be singles more often than fly balls, but generally are not home runs and other extra base hits like fly balls).
Based on these statistics, everything a pitcher can control, Halladay is a notch below Lincecum. Lincecum had two very similar seasons in 2008 and 2009 – 33-12, 2.52 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, with 526 strikeouts in 452 innings. I think this is Roy Halladay’s ceiling; he may win more games because he’ll have a major league offense behind him, unlike Lincecum, but there’s nothing to suggest he’ll do better.
Lastly, I want to take a look at the moves Philadelphia made to get Roy Halladay. They traded three prospects to the Indians to get Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco), then moved three more and Lee to Toronto and Oakland in the four-team trade to get Roy Halladay. In that trade, they also took back three prospects from Seattle, replacing some of the plays sent to Cleveland. All told, they traded 7 prospects for 2 months of Cliff Lee, three years of Roy Halladay (while paying him 20 million dollars per season), and three prospects.
This doesn’t seem much different than if Philadelphia had just dealt for Halladay at last July’s trade deadline, but Halladay appears to have come at a cheaper cost. In July, Toronto reportedly wanted J.A. Happ included as part of any trade; in the offseason, Toronto, with less leverage, “settled” for top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek. Also, easy to forget now, but Lee pitched well for Philadelphia, going 7-4 in 12 regular season starts, with a 3.39 ERA. He was even better in the postseason, going 4-0 in 5 starts; he would have been the World Series MVP had the Phillies won.
Seemingly, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. opted to re-stock his farm system instead of heading into 2010 with the potentially dominant trio of Halladay, Lee, and Cole Hamels. The only other reason to break up these three pitchers would be with respect to the payroll; given their other spending this winter, I don’t think this was a reason for moving Lee. Another way to look at it is that he replaced an ace he could only control for one year for an ace he could control for four. The only question, will Roy Halladay still be an ace in 2013 at age 37?
1,200 words later, and this is all I got out of this quest: Halladay will be a little better, the Phillies will be a little better, but not as much as I had thought at first. Either way, it should still be enough to win the National League East.