Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are among the elite pitchers in baseball, but there’s no question that Halladay has had the better career to this point. Halladay is less than a year and a half older than Lee, but has thrown 850 more innings than Lee. His innings have been better, too, as the numbers Halladay has put up overall are simply better than Lee’s.

Lee had a miserable 2007 season. He strained his groin in spring training and things got worse from there. He ended the year with a 6.29 ERA. He was fantastic in 2008 as he won the AL Cy Young award. Even over the last two years, though, Halladay has been better. Here’s what the two did in ’08 and ’09 combined:

  IP ERA Ratio
Halladay 485 2.78 1.09
Lee 455 2.89 1.18

That includes 2009, when Lee pitched about 35% of his innings in the National League.

Halladay has certainly been more the more consistent of the two. Lee has had two disastrous seasons out of the past six — 2007 and 2004. Halladay was awful over 67 2/3 innings in 2000, but that’s the only year of his career he’s put up an ERA+ under 115.

Here’s the rate at which the two have allowed hits, walks, extra-base hits, doubles and triples and home runs per 100 plate appearances over their careers:

  H/100 BB/100 XBH/100 (2B+3B)
/100
HR/100
Halladay 23.7 5.4 6.8 4.7 2.0
Lee 24.1 6.5 8.0 5.4 2.6

Halladay comes out ahead in all five categories.

It tightens up a little if you just look at the last two years. Important to remember is that Halladay has had five seasons in which he threw 100 innings or more with an ERA+ that was better than his ERA+ the year that he won the Cy Young award (2003). Lee’s Cy Young came in 2008 and he hasn’t had another year that was nearly as good. Here are their rates for the same five categories for the past two years:

  H/100 BB/100 XBH/100 (2B+3B)
/100
HR/100
Halladay 23.3 3.8 6.6 4.5 2.1
Lee 24.7 4.1 6.5 4.9 1.6

Halladay still was better at preventing hits and walks, but did allow home runs at a slightly higher rate than Lee.

One obvious difference between the two pitchers is that Halladay is right-handed and Lee is a lefty. It’s Halladay that’s been the better of the two against lefties over his career, though. They’ve both been good, but Halladay has held lefties to a puny 240/270/377 line while lefties have hit slightly better, 268/309/405, against Lee. Halladay, as you would expect, has been better against righties (278/305/389 compared to 262/318/415 against Lee).

The series of moves that brings Halladay to Philadelphia and sends Lee to Seattle are done. First the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners for right-handed pitchers Phillippe Aumont and JC Ramirez and center fielder Tyson Gillies. The Phillies then traded Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud to the Blue Jays for Halladay and $6 million.

The article linked above says that Halladay has signed a three-year extension that will make Halladay a Phillie through at least 2013. Halladay will make $20 million a year for three years after making $15.75 million in 2010.

It’s great to have Halladay on the team. If he’s not the best pitcher in baseball he’s definitely in the conversation. The frustrating thing, of course, is that the Phillies were unwilling to keep Lee for 2010 given how reasonable his contract was. When you think back to how much the Phillies have paid Geoff Jenkins and Adam Eaton not to play in recent years, and how much they will be paying Moyer to play this year, the failure to keep Lee for reasons that seem to be purely financial is even a little more frustrating. The prospects the Phillies traded away are better and more likely to contribute at the big league level in the next few years than the ones they got back. It’s great to have Halladay for three more years, but if you’re willing to pay your ace $20 million a year you’ve got a really good chance to get someone fantastic.

On the other hand, the Phillies are better today than they were before the trade. Halladay seems to clearly want to be in Philadelphia. He would have gotten a much better contract somewhere else if he had waited. If you’re willing to pay your ace $20 million you’re going to get someone really good, but you’re not going to get Halladay to sign a short three-year contract.