Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee: Efficiency Experts

When Cliff Lee spurned both the Rangers and Yankees for the Phillies earlier this offseason, it set up the Phillies rotation to be akin to the Miami Heat starting five, except without all the reality shows/live tv specials and hatred, but with state income taxes (albeit a low one). Now teamed up with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and (for the time being) Joe Blanton, everyone outside of the NL East is looking forward to the potential dominance of this rotation. And together, Halladay and Lee could also form one of the most efficient duos ever.

When I think of efficiency for a pitcher, I think of BB/9 and K/BB. You could easily make a case for BB%, K%, strike % or even P/PA, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but BB/9 and K/BB would be the two I pick, especially since they have readily available yearly leaderboards on baseball-reference. And looking at those two, we see that Halladay and Lee could be on the way to some serious history. Halladay has ranked in the top 5 in the Majors in each category each of the last three years, and Lee has almost matched him (he finished seventh in K/BB in 2009). In fact, last season, Lee ranked first in both, with Halladay right behind him, and no one was even remotely close to them:

2010 BB/9 and K/BB Leaders
Rank	Player		BB/9
1.	Cliff Lee	0.76
2.	Roy Halladay	1.08
3.	Carl Pavano	1.51

Rank	Player		K/BB
1.	Cliff Lee	10.28
2.	Roy Halladay	7.30
3.	Jered Weaver	4.32

Perhaps it didn’t strike anyone as fantastic in the past since both pitched for different teams, but now that they’re on the same team, I wanted to see if them putting up top five finishes in each category together would be unique or not. In order to keep things somewhat balanced in terms of teams in the league, I started with 1969, which was of course the year that MLB expanded to 24 teams by adding the Brewers, Expos, Padres and Pilots. In the 42 years since, 16 teammates have finished in the top five in BB/9 in the same season:

Top 5 BB/9 As Teammates, 1969-2010
Year	Tm	Player		BB/9	Rank	Player		BB/9	Rank
2007	CLE	Paul Byrd	1.31	2	CC Sabathia	1.38	3
2005	MIN	Carlos Silva	0.43	1	Brad Radke	1.03	3
2003	NYY	David Wells	0.85	1	Mike Mussina	1.68	5
2002	MIN	Rick Reed	1.25	2	Eric Milton	1.58	5
1999	HOU	Shane Reynolds	1.44	1	Jose Lima	1.61	5
1997	MIN	Bob Tewksbury	1.65	4	Brad Radke	1.80	5
1996	HOU	Shane Reynolds	1.52	4	Greg Swindell	1.58	5
1993	STL	Bob Tewksbury	0.84	1	Rene Arocha	1.48	2
1992	STL	Bob Tewksbury	0.77	1	Rheal Cormier	1.60	2
1979	MIL	Mike Caldwell	1.49	2	Lary Sorensen	1.61	3
1978	TEX	Fergie Jenkins	1.48	1	Jon Matlack	1.70	4
1978	MIL	Lary Sorensen	1.60	2	Mike Caldwell	1.66	3
1974	OAK	Catfish Hunter	1.30	2	Ken Holtzman	1.80	4
1973	SFG	Juan Marichal	1.61	1	Jim Barr	1.91	5
1972	NYY	Fritz Peterson	1.58	3	Steve Kline	1.68	5
1971	NYY	Fritz Peterson	1.38	2	Steve Kline	1.50	3

In this chart, we obviously see a lot of excellent control pitchers. Carlos Silva made the top 10 for four straight years from 2004-2007. Bob Tewksbury was even better, placing in the top 6 from 1991-1994 and 1996-1997, leading the Majors in both 1992 and 1993. He missed the cut in 1995 only because he didn’t pitch enough innings; if he had, he would have ranked second. The only teammates to have repeat top five finishes in consecutive years were Fritz Peterson and Steve Kline (no relation to the LOOGY of the same name) for the 1971-1972 Yankees, showing that while it’s difficult to team up to be efficient once, it’s been near impossible to do so in consecutive seasons. Finally, it’s interesting to see how the degree of difficulty has increased in recent years. For instance, Juan Marichal’s 1.606 BB/9 ranked first in 1973. From 2004-2006, that figure would have been only good for eighth place, and the best it would have ranked in any year in the past decade is fourth. Last season, Lee’s 0.763 mark was less than half of Marichal’s in 1973.

Moving on to K/BB, we find that teammates dominated here a bit less frequently:

Top 5 K/BB As Teammates, 1969-2010
Year	Tm	Player		K/BB	Rank	Player		K/BB	Rank
2005	MIN	Carlos Silva	7.89	1	Johan Santana	5.29	2
2003	NYY	David Wells	5.05	3	Mike Mussina	4.88	5
2002	ARI	Curt Schilling	9.58	1	Randy Johnson	4.70	3
2001	ARI	Curt Schilling	7.51	1	Randy Johnson	5.24	4
1999	HOU	Shane Reynolds	5.32	2	Jose Lima	4.25	4
1996	ATL	Greg Maddux	6.14	1	John Smoltz	5.02	2
1992	STL	Bob Tewksbury	4.55	1	Rheal Cormier	3.55	3
1992	CIN	Jose Rijo	3.89	2	Greg Swindell	3.37	4
1990	NYM	David Cone	3.59	2	Dwight Gooden	3.19	5
1984	LAD	Orel Hershiser	3.00	3	Alejandro Pena	2.94	4
1978	TEX	Fergie Jenkins	3.83	1	Jon Matlack	3.08	3
1973	CHC	Fergie Jenkins	2.98	4	Rick Reuschel	2.71	5

Once again, we see one set of teammates dominating in consecutive years, but this time it’s the much more recognizable duo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. As before, we see a single pitcher reach with a teammate in consecutive years (Tewksbury above, Fergie Jenkins here) but with a different teammate each time. For the Twins, that 2005 season was truly remarkable. Not only did Silva and Johan Santana finish one-two, but Radke also finished right behind them in fourth place. Perhaps that’s something that Oswalt and/or Hamels can strive for, as both have finished in the top 10 in K/BB in the past.

Bringing things full circle to Lee and Halladay’s 2010 season, we narrow it down to find that in the 42-year sample, only five sets of teammates have finished in the top five in both BB/9 and K/BB in the same season: Silva and Radke in 2005, David Wells and Mike Mussina in 2003, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima in 1999, Tewksbury and Rheal Cormier in 1982 and Fergie Jenkins and Jon Matlack in 1978. None of the five duos finished one-two in both categories.

Obviously it’s difficult to lead the Majors in anything a single time, let alone in consecutive years, so the odds certainly don’t work in favor of Lee and Halladay repeating their 2010 performance. Nevertheless, this will be something fun to track throughout the season, with perhaps only ad executives at CSN Philadelphia that will have fewer spots to sell, rooting against them.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

35 Responses to “Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee: Efficiency Experts”

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  1. Mr. Red says:

    Carlos Silva did it with Radke in BB/9 and with Santana in K/BB .. in the same year! I don’t remember their other pitchers that year, but what a foundation for an efficient staff.

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  2. Ari Collins says:

    I think you missed ’04 Schilling and Pedro, who were both in the top 5 in K/BB. Schilling was 1st and Pedro 5th. Unless I’m missing something, which is entirely possible.

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  3. Lincoln says:

    love the formatting.

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  4. Daniel says:

    “The Efficiency Expert” is an obscure Anthony Hopkins film, made immediately after he starred in The Silence of the Lambs.

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  5. Dan in Philly says:

    So what you’re saying is… The Phillies have the potential to have a pretty good starting rotation, right? But where are they going to find a right hand bat to play the outfield? They are doomed!!! (I listen to a lot of Philly area talk radio, which is why I know this).

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  6. Nahder in Philly says:

    Doesn’t baseball have the same amount of ad’s either way because because they only break to commercials during innings changed?

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Nope they are so efficient that the time between innings is shorter. It’s called the Einstein-Maddox Bridge.

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    • AJS says:

      For a non-snarky answer, I’ll add that pitching changes during innings give extra commercial opportunities. Halladay and Lee rarely get taken out of games in the middle of innings.

      Also, if a game only takes 2:20, but the network has allotted 3:00 for it, they have to fill that other time somehow, and it will probably be with programming that will draw less viewership and therefore lower commercial rates.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        My answer was much wittier, though.

        Anyway, I’m sure advertisers will be very happy with the ratings that they get during games pitched by Lee and Halladay, and that CSN will find that they can charge a little more to make up for the lack of pitching changes.

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  7. LondonStatto says:

    Based on the 2010 postseason, it should be “Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee: Losers”.

    A Giants Fan :)

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  8. tcnjsteve says:

    Im surprised Maddux only showed up on this list once. I guess the other braves pitchers rarely put up super-efficient numbers?

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  9. Travis says:

    Mike Caldwell and Lary Sorensen both placed in the top 5 in BB/9 for Milwaukee in ’78 and ’79, with Caldwell 2nd and Sorensen 3rd in ’78, Sorensen 2nd and Caldwell 3rd in ’79. That reversal is probably why it isn’t immediately noticeable that they pulled that feat in consecutive seasons.

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  10. Dan says:

    you say Fergie Jenkins “reach[ed] with a teammate in consecutive years” for K/BB but on your chart it shows it was in ’73 and ’78. typo on the chart or text?

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      My apologies. It was actually ’73 and ’78, so it was not in consecutive years. My bad in the text.

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      • Dan says:

        I didn’t mean to be critical, I actually really enjoyed the article. Thanks for the response, I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

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  11. eo says:

    This needs a lot of editing. The first paragraph is messy. The central idea is that the Phillies top two pitchers are efficient, which seems like the least contentious point possible. To support this point, the author attempts to give historical context by choosing statistics that come to mind when he thinks of efficiency for a pitcher. He doesn’t attempt to define efficiency or how it correlates to the stats he chooses. By the end we are left with really specific and semi-random parameters to illuminate the point that Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are good at baseball. If this was my first time to the site why would I ever come back?

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    • Brad K says:

      You would come back because there is more information than just this one story. And if you wouldn’t come back, then you probably weren’t that interested in baseball statistics anyway. Just my 2 cents.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      If you are visiting a baseball site for the first time in January, you are going to come back to it later.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      In another thread, it was revealed that Albert Pujols was the most valuable player in baseball.

      Where else can you get information like that? *grin*

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  12. Brad K says:

    I understand why you chose these two parameters for pitching efficiency (because of its readily accessibility), but it would be nice to also correlate this type of efficiency with runs allowed. I mean, if a pitcher always gets hit on the first pitch, then it is a matter of if it is an out or a hit. At that point, you’re only efficient at moving onto the next batter.

    Anyway, the ’78 Rangers were 7th in the majors in R/G at 3.90.
    The ’92 Cardinals were 4th in the majors in R/G at 3.73.
    The ’99 Astros were 2nd in the majors in R/G at 4.17.
    The ’03 Yankees were 10th in the majors in R/G at 4.39. This is really indicting because the Yankees led the majors as a team in both BB/9 and K/BB. Which to me means these categories don’t mean much. They faced the 12th least amount of batters (also on baseball reference).
    The ’05 Twins were 8th in the majors in R/G at 4.09.

    I think it would be better to look at efficiency in terms a category something like K/(BB+H) and WHIP. This can be easily backtracked and found unlike P/PA.

    Either way, fun stuff. Thanks for making the mind think.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      As I recall Walter Johnson, perhaps starting a franchise tradition, said that the best thing to do was pitch strikes so that the batter had to hit the ball.

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  13. David says:

    Small correction that has nothing to do with the main point of the article, but in 1969 MLB expanded with the Padres, Expos, Pilots and the Royals. The Pilots became the Brewers in 1970. Very interesting article, however.

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