Cliff Lee, the comeback kid, has been getting press all year long and his Cy Young has long been a foregone conclusion, but now that the season is actually coming to a close he is no longer alone in the Cy Young conversation. We give you, Roy Halladay.
Their numbers, with their respective league ranks in parentheses (a big asterisk)*:
22 Wins (1), 2.54 ERA (1), 1.11 WHIP (3), 170 Ks (9), 223.1IP (2), 4 CGs (2)
20 Wins (2), 2.78 ERA (2), 1.05 WHIP (1), 206 Ks (3), 246 IP (1), 9 CGs (1)
If we go a step further, and use Bill James' favorite pitching tool, Halladay's SO-BB ratio is 5.29 to Lee's 5.00. Going more Jamesian still, Lee has the higher ERA+, sitting at a league-leading 174. The discrepancy is Halladay's pitcher's park and Lee's hitter's park. A 174 ERA+ would be the highest in the AL in five years, but let's not unfairly penalize Halladay while praising Lee, because his splits bear out that he was unaffected by his supposed home field advantage.
The talk in the NL CY Young race has been about the bullpens, specifically how many wins they've cost Santana and Lincecum. The flip side of that argument, that everyone so conveniently ignores in this age of pitch counts, is that if Santana or Lincecum had the fortitude to regularly go 9 innings, there wouldn't be any whining about bullpens.
This is what the AL Cy Young comes down to. Lee's and Halladay's stat lines are quite similar. Either would be a defensible winner, but the tie breaker should be, has to be, those nine Complete Games staring back at you.
Appropriately, last night, Halladay finished his season with yet another complete game, and it is significant that he now has more than twice that of his nearest competitor, that he is the only pitcher in the league that regularly gives his bullpen a rest, that he gives his entire team a boost of confidence. And no, we do not mean the confidence of "the stopper," no, it's more than that; it's the kind of confidence that the Mets' players, for example, do not get to experience when Santana takes the mound, because they know that once his pitch count starts to approach triple digits he'll be out of the game shortly and thus their bullpen-driven anxiety can never quite subside. And yes, that's why Halladay is carrying that ugly looking "11" in the loss column, because, if you want to get into the numbers of it, he leads the league with 5 "tough losses," defined as losses in Quality Starts.
This is no knock on Lee, because 4 CGs is nothing to sneeze at; it would've lead the NL last year. This is in praise of Roy, of Doc Halladay.
Lee has his own tiebreaker working for him, and that's his story, and since it's writers doing the voting, perhaps that will be the tiebreaker they choose to consider. Or maybe convention will dictate that it's preferable for the Cy Young to have a sexy win-loss record and they'll never even get to the point of considering Doc, but the case can be made, and perhaps they should.
*Yes, Lee could make one more start on Sunday, but for now it's uncertain.
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