Friday, April 15, 2016

Best players of the last 30 years, #22: Roy Halladay

Near the end of this countdown will be four starting pitchers who not only comprise the pitching Mount Rushmore of my life as a baseball fan, they all belong somewhere near the top ten pitchers in baseball history. Probably no era had four pitchers of such excellence at the same time. So much greatness leaves a wake in its path though, and the consequence of that wake is that other starting pitchers from the last three decades have rarely gotten their due. Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez (three of the four pitchers I alluded to) cruised into Cooperstown in their first year of eligibility; Roger Clemens has been waylaid by PED connections. Only two other pitchers whose career came mostly during my thirty years as a fan have been voted into the Hall of Fame though: Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. They both deserve the honor, but as this list will show, I think even better pitchers have landed on the ballot in recent years and been denied. The next pitcher with much of a chance of getting through the doors will be Roy Halladay.

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This countdown is a way for me to look back at the three decades I've spent as a baseball fan. My introduction to the project, with an explanation of sorts, and links to every entry can be found here.

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Who holds the record for worst ERA in Major League history for a season with at least 50 innings pitched? I probably wouldn't be asking that question here if the answer wasn't Roy Halladay (it is), but if you'd been asked that question in a neutral context, how many guesses do you think it would have taken you to land on the correct answer? Halladay was a first-round pick and made his MLB debit when he was only 21, and in his first full season (1999) he did well. The following year though, everything came apart, and in 67.2 innings, he allowed 80 earned runs, for an ERA of 10.64. (Three times later in his career, Halladay would lead the league in innings pitched without allowing that many runs.)

Halladay was sent back to the minors to try and adjust in 2001. Within weeks he'd adopted a new arm angle, which isn't an easy thing for a pitcher to do; he went from trying to overpower hitters with his velocity to throwing pitches with more movement. By midseason he'd earned another shot at the Majors, and he excelled. His excellence continued for more than a decade, as he made eight All-Star teams and finished in the top five for Cy Young voting seven times, winning the award in 2003 with the Blue Jays, and in 2010 with the Phillies.

Halladay's rise to greatness coincided with my entry into fantasy baseball. In the spring of 2003 my friends and I started our league. I used one of my early draft picks on Halladay, and he went on to pitch 266 innings that year, which remains the most any pitcher has thrown during a season in the 2000s, and might always remain as such. His excellence propelled my team, and because fantasy attachments often become real attachments, I became a Halladay fan.

Halladay spent most of his career with the Blue Jays, but is best remembered by many for his time with the Phillies, probably in part because his two healthy seasons with them were arguably the best of his career, and in part because two most spectacular games of his career came with them. Halladay won his second Cy Young during his first season with Philadelphia, making him only the fifth pitcher to win it in both leagues. In May of that season he pitched a perfect game; then on October 6, in the first postseason game of his career, Halladay pitched only the second no-hitter in postseason history, and came within a walk of becoming the first pitcher with multiple perfect games.

He didn't make as much history, or win as much hardware, but Halladay was basically just as good the following season. In 2011 and 2012 though, he was hampered by injuries, and despite being only 36 years old, he decided to call it a career. Halladay had six seasons with a WAR of 6+. Only four other pitchers have had so many seasons that good in the last thirty years: Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, and Martinez. Halladay had three seasons with a WAR of 8+. Only four other pitchers have had so many seasons that good in the last thirty years... I'll bet you don't need me to tell you who they were.

Halladay wasn't on quite the same level as that foursome, but that can't be the Hall of Fame standard unless you want to kick out 80% of the players who've been inducted. Halladay was the best pitcher we've seen so far this century, and deserves to be elected to the Hall of Fame at the earliest opportunity (2019). His win total is going to look too low to voters still stuck in a baseball world that hasn't really existed for decades now. His winning percentage, 3.38 ERA, two Cy Youngs, perfect game, and postseason no-hitter should look impressive to everyone though.


  1. I think perhaps there is a typo in your second to last paragraph....did Halladay have six seasons of 6+ WAR or only three? It looks like you say both, unless I am misunderstanding. I think the correct answer is six.
    Another great recap of an underappreciated pitcher. Still can't understand why greats like Halladay, Mussina and Schilling aren't getting more HOF buzz. Thanks for the reminder of Doc Halladay's dominance. (203-105!!! Yikes!)

    1. Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment. You are right that typo (since fixed). Halladay had six seasons with 6+ WAR and three seasons with 8+ WAR.

      I feel like Halladay's HOF case will benefit from his career not overlapping as much with those of Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, and Pedro, and that he'll get in within three years or so of landing on the ballot.