For much of the decade of the 2000’s, the question about who was the best pitcher in baseball started at number two. Mostly because the dominance of Roy Halladay made it so simple to decide on who was at the top of the list. Whether it was during his run of triumph in-spite of some less than desirable clubs in Toronto, or his turn of fortune (and perfection) in Philadelphia, Doc Halladay has stood for the pinnacle of both competition and resilient results for his career.
Yet, as he has turned into his twilight of his career, where does this place him among the greats that have ever toed the mound? Pitching more so than any other position is guided by the standard set by magic numbers and an ever-changing chance to reach the position’s definitive quality marker: wins. Despite this, Halladay has dominated his era at a quality as good as any hurler has, but has it been great enough, for long enough, for him to sit among the immortals when his time is up? Let’s have a look.
The Numbers (through June 12)—Record: 201-104 (.659 win %), 3.37 ERA, 2101 strikeouts, 2721.2 innings pitched, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts
1. The Case For: At his peak, he was the perfect example of the exception rule. He excelled regardless of surroundings as well as any pitcher in baseball for the bulk of his career. From 2002 to 2009, he pitched for only one team that finished any better than third place in the American League East. However, during this time, he won at least 16 games in six seasons, including 19 in ’02, 22 in ’03 and 20 again in ’08. In those respective seasons, he won 24, 25 and 23 percent of all Blue Jay games. He posted a winning percentage of at least 75% in four seasons, and after turning 25 in ’02, he posted only one season with a winning percentage under 63% for the next ten years. That goes beyond efficiency; that crosses into dominance.
And working in bulk is another of Halladay’s great assets. He’s almost a man out of time in that regard, as in a time where less innings are being pitched by starters and instead being shared by increasingly specialized staffs; Halladay is pitching like it’s the 1960’s still. From 2007-2011, he led the American and National Leagues (respectively) in complete games, totaling 42 across that span. He also led the AL in shutouts from 2008-10, totaling 10. For his career, he has led a league in complete games seven times, shutouts four times, and innings pitched four times as well. He’s a warhorse.
He’s perhaps the perfect blend of strikeout and control pitcher. He throws hard, yet with consistent control, which allows him to work quickly and control the pace of games, thus his ability to work high innings totals. In 2010 with the Phillies, he became the first pitcher since 1923 to top 250 innings, but walk 30 or less batters. From 2006 to 2011, he only walked more than 40 batters once, while pitching at least 220 innings in each season.
2. The Case Against: The case against Halladay could be that he’s far away from being a member of the 300 win club, or even the 250 win club. While his 201 wins are the second most actively of any pitcher all-time, it ranks him only 107th all-time. While there have been Hall of Famers that have won less, namely Dizzy Dean and Dazzy Vance, of those inducted in the last 30 years, only Don Drysdale’s 209 have been within the same range as Halladay’s total.
Part of this is due to the poor performing Blue Jay clubs he played for, but also due in part to the bookends of his career. Over his first three full seasons, his record was 17-17 and his ERA 5.08. Within the past two seasons, injuries have sidelined him twice and greatly curbed his impact as well. Since the beginning of 2012, he has a 13-12 record and 5.24 ERA. The wins standard is important, and he’s short there, as well as he has only pitched in two playoff series in his career, with his first coming at age 34.
3. Similar Players (thru age 35):
- Mike Mussina: 270-153 record, 3.68 ERA, .638 win%, 2813 strikeouts, 3562.2 innings pitched
- Tim Hudson: 201-110 record, 3.45 ERA, .646 win%, 1862 strikeouts, 2766 innings pitched
- Dwight Gooden: 194-112 record, 3.51 ERA, .634 win%, 2293 strikeouts, 2800.2 innings pitched
4. Cooperstown Likelihood (thru age 36): Halladay is an interesting case when it comes to Cooperstown profile. Is he one of the greatest of his era? Unquestionably. Yet, has he had the sustained dominance of a no-doubt Hall of Famer? The answer is both yes and no. Nothing tells the story of this better than three players that compare most favorably to him. Each have had three very different careers, and would make no sense in being tied to each other without Halladay being the common denominator. He was regularly above average to excellent in the same style as Mussina, although for not as consecutively long as Moose was. He had an undeniably dominant era in the late 2000’s in a similar fashion to what Gooden did in the mid-80’s. And finally, he had two peaks to his career, but not a long consecutive run, in the same fashion that Hudson did.
In the end, what puts Halladay over is just how great his peak was. He was a Cy Young winner in both leagues, eight seasons apart. At his most transcendent, he threw both a Perfect Game and a No-Hitter in the same season, his first in the National League. And although the opportunities were delayed, two of his five October games were classic efforts, including the no-hitter coming in his first postseason appearance, and his 1-0 battle with best friend and postseason great Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2011.
Something can also be said for excellence in the face of adversity. He took the ball and made the Blue Jays favorites at least once every fifth day for 12 years. He is one of the great competitors of all-time, and raised the levels of the players around him as well in a way that even few great players have. He has been responsible for 65.5 Wins Above Replacement level in his career, including six seasons of better than 5 in Toronto, and an astonishing 16.2 in his two Philly seasons combined. And while he’ll probably never return to the full health that enabled him accomplish these feats again, what he’s accomplished thus far has been exceptional to a level that may not be clear when looking at paper years from now, but when viewed in time, was quite often unmatchable.
So to that extent, while the deed may be nearly done for the 36-year-old righty, if the question is asked today if Roy Halladay is in, out or in-between being a Hall of Famer, the answer has to be he is IN. With as strong of a quality over quantity pull as there can be.
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