Reporting from Philadelphia — Bill James has taken the fun out of baseball, according to one school of thought.
James is responsible for the sport's statistical revolution. He forced terms such as "Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm" into the vernacular of a culturally inflexible institution.
But give James credit for this: His ideas sparked an entertaining debate leading up to the showdown between Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay and San Francisco Giants counterpart Tim Lincecum in the opening game of the National League Championship Series on Saturday.
Using a metric created by James to numerically quantify a pitcher's dominance in a particular game, a researcher for the league's official website concluded that Lincecum's two-hit, 14-strikeout complete game against Atlanta in the division series was superior to Halladay's no-hitter against Cincinnati.
"That's what's fun about baseball," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "It's fun to compare them. Now they're facing each other? It's a fan's dream. I wouldn't miss it."
Lincecum won the last two NL Cy Young awards. Halladay, who won the AL version of the prize with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2003, is expected to win the award this year.
Of course, the idea that a two-hitter could rank ahead of a no-hitter sounded like heresy to some ears — those belonging to Phillies players, for example.
Asked if that made any sense, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley replied, "No," then added, "Both guys pitched great."
Others were less diplomatic.
Outfielder Shane Victorino said, "No chance. If he was any better, he would have thrown a no-hitter. I think I'd take the no-hitter."
Said Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel: "It doesn't make any sense at all. A no-hitter's better than a two-hitter, obviously."
However, at least one Phillie — pitching coach Rich Dubee — said he thought Halladay was better against the Reds than when he threw a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29.
The no-hitter marked the introduction to postseason baseball for the 33-year-old Halladay, who spent 12 seasons with the Blue Jays.
"Beats the heck out of fishing, I can tell you that," Halladay said.
Halladay was the top prize of the off-season trade market, and the Phillies sent ace left-hander Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners as part of what was essentially a four-way deal to acquire him.
Manuel said Halladay's command is even better than he previously thought. And what particularly impressed the manager was how Halladay worked.
He routinely was at the Phillies' spring training facility by 5:30 a.m.
"I was waking up at 5:30," teammate Cole Hamels said. "He would be done with his workout when I would come in and start mine."
Dubee laughed recalling how some players tried to work out with Halladay, a former all-state high school cross-country runner in Colorado.
"That lasted a short period," Dubee said.
Hamels was among them.
"I did it one time and I realized it was insanity," Hamels said. "I have a newborn. I need every bit of sleep I can get."
The work translated into results, as Halladay was 21-10 with a 2.44 earned-run average in the regular season.
As for Lincecum, his 3.43 ERA was nearly a full point higher than it was the previous season.
But this was a season in which he learned a lot about himself.
The diminutive and shaggy-haired kid who was named the league's top pitcher in his first two full seasons in the majors had the worst month of his career in August. He was 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA.
"His overall spirit was down and I saw it," Righetti said. "Anybody who followed the team could see it. He didn't have his normal confidence on the mound. You could tell he was searching."
So Lincecum changed his regimen. He ran more to strengthen his legs. He threw more between starts, which helped him refine his slider.
Righetti said he stressed to Lincecum the urgency of regaining his form in the final month of the season.
"You've got to be ready," Righetti recalled telling him. "This team's going to be in it and you're going to be the reason why."
Righetti was right. Over six September starts, Lincecum was 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA.
Lincecum said he was ready for the October spotlight, which he had never experienced.
"I feel like the All-Star game last year helped me prepare for the postseason scenario, just with the heightened atmosphere and how crazy it gets," he said.
Halladay and Lincecum did what they could to downplay the significance of facing each other, which is a baseball custom in situations such as this.
"As far as the opposing pitcher, obviously, there's not a lot of focus pitcher to pitcher," Halladay said. "You do try and keep your focus on their lineup, what you're going to do."
Said Lincecum: "I get to face Halladay, what, once every nine at-bats? It's not so much him we're worried about."