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April 22, 2010

Checking the Numbers

The Doctor is Operating

by Eric Seidman

Last night, Roy Halladay tossed a gem on ESPN’s Wednesday Night Baseball matchup between the Braves and the Phillies, going the distance for Philadelphia without allowing a run. His final line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, and 113 pitches (71 strikes, 42 balls). Halladay raised his record to 4-0, becoming MLB's first four-game winner, and improved his ERA from 1.13 to 0.82. On the year, Doc has now logged 33 innings, surrendering 26 hits while issuing just three walks to 28 strikeouts. He has thrown just 412 pitches in those 33 innings, an average of 12.5 per inning, making him economical in addition to durable. So, yeah, he is pretty good, and is in the midst of an incredible start to his Phillies' tenure. His game-by-game lines:

Date Opponent IP H ER BB SO
4/5 @ Washington 7 6 1 2 9
4/11 @ Houston 9 7 0 0 8
4/16 Florida 8 8 2 0 4
4/21 @ Atlanta 9 5 0 1 7

Pitchers moving from the American League to the National League are expected to improve their performance, given that they get to face feeble-hitting pitchers instead of slugging designated hitters, but Halladay has surpassed even that expectation in dominating the opposition so far, tossing two complete games and a shutout to introduce himself to the weaker offensive league.

The last couple of seasons have seen similarly hot starts to the season from two different pitchers that eventually went on to win the Cy Young Award. In 2008, Indians lefty Cliff Lee logged 31 2/3 innings in his first four appearances, walking a mere two batters to his 29 strikeouts to go along with a 0.28 ERA. Lee finished the season with a 2.54 ERA and a 5.0 K/BB ratio en route to end-of-season hardware. Lee would later get off to a fantastic start in his own Phillies' tenure after being acquired from the Indians in a trade last July, also winning his first four games and producing a 0.82 ERA identical to Halladay’s current mark. The other example came last season when Zack Greinke amassed 29 innings in his first four starts, walking six and whiffing 36, while allowing no earned runs on his way to succeeding Lee as the American League Cy Young winner.

Fast forward to 2010, and Halladay finds himself in the same conversation as far as delivering dominating starts to a season. It is still too early to tell whether or not he will achieve milestones such as 25 wins or 250 innings, but even through the small sample of four starts, it is abundantly clear that this will be a fun ride for Phillies fans, with every fifth day becoming a holiday in and of itself.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

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