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Who was better in Game 1: Halladay or Lincecum?

Oct 8, 2010, 2:28 PM EDT

No-hitter or not, a writer for the New York Times says it was Lincecum. Could he be right?

This may be the first time I’ve ever said “shove your stinkin’ stats! I know what my own eyes tell me!” and wasn’t being snarky. But Dan Rosenheck’s piece in the New York Times concluding that Tim Lincecum’s 14 strikeout performance was better than Roy Halladay’s no-hitter actually has me saying it.

It’s not that I disagree with Rosenheck’s results, as such. He’s not, I don’t believe, making value judgments here. He’s using defense independent pitching analysis. He’s looking at Win Probability Added. The numbers, as far as a luddite like me can tell, add up. I’m not sitting here like some octogenarian newspaper columnist misusing that “lies, damn lies and statistics” quote while shaking my cane.

No, it’s not a case of me — a fellow traveler of many a stat-head — rejecting sabermetric orthodoxy. It’s just
a case of one fan — me — finding his own limit of the utility of statistical
analysis and saying: “Hey Dan: neat article. But it’s totally beside the point.

Sure, I suppose if I wanted to attack Rosenheck’s analysis I could get into the strength of each pitcher’s opponent. Or I could try to break down each pitcher’s command. Or I could actually track batted-balls and find some error in his approach. Or I could question the utility of using DIPS in a single game in the first place.

But I need not take any issue with his analysis to conclude that Halladay was better. I’m
merely sitting here as a baseball fan who watched the entirety of both
performances. I’m merely declaring — gleefully — that Doc was better than Timmy, no question about it, bub, and don’t you dare try to tell me any differently.

I usually cringe when someone tells me that statistical analysis has its limits and that looking at things from beneath a green eye-shade is an awful way to try and understand the game. But in this one instance, yeah, my inner-Joe Morgan is coming out.

  1. Ryan - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    Lincecum had a great outing last night and pitched a gem, but Halladay did it against a much better lineup in a much more hitter-friendly park.

  2. Ryan - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    Lincecum had a great outing last night and pitched a gem, but Halladay did it against a much better lineup in a much more hitter-friendly park.

  3. Argentinean Devil - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:52 PM

    The WPA analysis this guy makes is basically saying that Lincecum had a better game because Phillies hitters scored more, and with the headline being “Did Lincecum pitch better than Halladay?”, such a thing shouldn’t matter.

  4. FlyEaglesFly - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    Dan RosenHACK!

  5. birdmancometh - Oct 8, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    Could it be that the natural fan reaction of blaming their favorite team of sucking rather than giving credit to the opponent is at work here? It could be that the negative feelings that Lincecome’s game brings out of you are souring his performance in your eyes. So says Dr. birdmancometh.

  6. Mr. Heyward - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:03 PM

    Thanks Tommy Two-Times. Now go and get the papers, the papers. I vote Halladay for one reason: first playoff no-hitter in over half century and only 2 have occurred EVER!!! Even if he pitched “worse” and got a no-no (i.e. walked a bunch of dudes, less control, etc.), I’d still say he wins b/c it’s so damn historical. That said, 14 Ks is pretty historical too, but not quite….

    Put it this way, it’s like choosing between a blond 10 and a brunette 10, can’t I have them both????

  7. Matthew Flint - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    Ask this clown what people will remember in 20 years, a No-No or a little shutout? If Lincecum stays in the league long enough he may win himself a Roy Halladay Award.

  8. BleedGreen - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    The Braves helped Lincecum out a LOT. Swinging at junk. Halladay threw strikes the entire night. He got people to ground out. Halladay > Lincecum, but I do like Little Timmy a lot.

  9. Utley's hair - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Halladay, hands down. He was a strike away from a friggin’ perfect game for God’s sake!!!! Lincecum did throw a damn good game, but Halladay almost uncorked a second perfect game in the same season.

  10. Alex K - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    According to Joe Pos, Lincecum’s game score was higher (I didn’t calculate the two, but I doubt Joe messed ths info up).

  11. BC - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    How do you pitch better than Halliday – other than a perfect game???!?!
    Rosenheck is probably going to vote for Felix Hernandez for Cy Young, too.

  12. geoknows - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    Halladay’s game score was 94, Lincecum’s 96. Lincecum’s is higher on the strength of all those strikeouts. But to me, game score is just a guide to how a pitcher pitched, not the be-all-and-end-all. It just tells part of the story. I watched both games too, and in this case, I think I have to go all Joe Morgan as well and say that I know what I saw – and I know I have never seen a pitcher carve up a lineup the way Doc did. He had the better game.

  13. Jeremy - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    While I don’t disagree with you, I feel the author did a solid job of separating “how well did they pitch?” from “how valuable were they?” WPA figures into only the latter.

  14. Utley's hair - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Damn you, BC!!!! Now I want a chipwich. Crap.

  15. scatterbrian - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    “Swinging at junk.”

    That’s deception–pitchers fooling hitters–and part of what makes Lincecum a great pitcher. I’m not saying one was better than the other, but don’t discredit Lincecum’s performance because of the type of pitches Braves hitters were missing.

  16. Mr. Heyward - Oct 8, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    You should have a McDolphin, those are on sale on Fridays I think.

  17. nps6724 - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    Let’s see, a 1-walk no-hitter in a big-time hitter’s park against a good hitting team or a shutout in a big-time pitcher’s park against a below-average hitting team. Hmmmmmmmm……..

  18. Aaron - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    Ummm. Halladay, 1 Cy Young, 10 years. Lincecum, 2 Cy Youngs, 3+ years. Lincecum has led the NL in strikesouts in each of his full seasons. Timmy was downright Pedro-esque last night, and I don’t make that statement lightly. If you want to compare career stats through 4 MLB seasons it’s no contest between the 2: Lincecum is vastly superior to this point in his career. Just for shits and giggles, here’s a list of back to back NL Cy winners: Lincecum, Maddux, Johnson, Koufax. Verducci was right, we are watching the Koufax of this generation, and his name is Tim Lincecum.
    At the end of the day though, they were both phenomenal performances. Can’t we appreciate both without having to declare one the best?

  19. Matthew Flint - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    The Roy Award was a joke, and I know Lincecum is outstanding, I just don’t think that game he pitched last night will historically be a blip on the radar. Halladay was about 3 inches away from a perfect game in his first playoff start. A feat that has not be accomplished in over fifty years. The games aren’t comparable in my opinion.

  20. Alex K - Oct 8, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    I was just passing along information, not making a determination as I wasn’t able to watch either game.

  21. JayT - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Imagine for a moment that Ruiz and Werth didn’t both make those great plays, an Halladay ended up with a two hit shutout. Who would have been considered to have thrown the better two hit one walk shutout? I think most people would say Lincecum.
    I think Halladay’s was the slightly more impressive outing just because of the quality of competition, but they were both very close.

  22. Trevor B - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Based on history isn’t a good arguement. That means Edwin’s no hitter was pretty damn good, too even though he could have still easily lost that game while pitching a no hitter.

    I still think Doc had the better performance though, I just think your argument is wrong about the relevance of being historical.

    I rate Doc a 9.874689/10 and Timmy a 9.846847/10

  23. Aaron - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:12 PM

    It’s not quite as historic as some are making it out to be, and there are bound to be more in our future. By no means am I saying it was not an incredible accomplishment but the playoffs have changed dramatically over the years. There are more playoff games and worse playoff teams now than there ever have been because of the wild card and the three divisions. There was a time when the only playoffs were the World Series. To put the difference into perspective, if every series goes the max this year we could see 41 potential playoff games, which is a dramatic increase in the number of opportunities for a no no or perfect game to be thrown. That increase will give us more no hitters and perfect games in the future, so while right now it is 1 of only 2, chances are it probably won’t stay that way for too long. Also a factor is the level of competition faced with 8 teams now making the playoffs. While the Reds are the best offensive team in the league so that argument doesn’t hold up in this case, but it probably will be a factor in future postseason no hitters and perfect games.

  24. Trevor B - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    Lincecum throws a lot of pitches that look like strikes and end as balls… that isn’t swinging at junk, that is swinging at some filthy stuff a pitcher has.

  25. Matthew Flint - Oct 8, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    Good points. I agree with the possibilities, but they’re just that. And if there are more to come the significance will not depreciate very much. Regular season no hitters are still great accomplishments and the playoffs adds a layer of pressure that makes it more difficult. Good talk.

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