It didn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s entirely possible that we saw the last pitch Roy Halladay will ever throw as a Major League Baseball player on Monday night in Philadelphia’s loss against Miami. 

Halladay was removed after facing just three hitters with what the team has called arm fatigue. That would certainly make sense since not one of the 16 pitches (11 balls) he threw topped 83 miles per hour. 

In many ways, while sad to watch, it was an appropriate ending to what has been the most difficult season of Halladay’s career. It’s even worse than when he had to be sent down to rookie ball in order to rebuild his delivery with Toronto in 2001, because there is little hope for a revival this time. 

Halladay is 36 years old and will turn 37 next May. His contract did include a $20 million option for 2014 that would have vested if he finished with 225 innings this year or 415 combined between 2012-13. 

Since Halladay didn’t hit either threshold, as well as the dreadful performance he had when on the field, the Phillies aren’t likely to exercise that option. I say “likely” because I never put anything past general manager Ruben Amaro

While we would all like to think that athletes can go out at the top of their game, like Mariano Rivera is doing this season, the sad reality is most of them end up looking like Halladay. Very rarely will you find a player willing to walk away while still productive; it is going to happen because no one else wants to give them a shot. 

Given Halladay’s inability to stay healthy the last two years, age and steep decline, his career as we once knew it is over. But what does his legacy become without throwing another pitch in Major League Baseball?


The Resume

Halladay’s career is ending, in many ways, how it started. He made his debut with Toronto in 1998 as a 21-year-old with two starts before starting the next season in the big leagues full time. 

As a 22-year-old, Halladay made 36 appearances and 18 starts with the Blue Jays. His 3.92 ERA looked good, but 156 hits allowed, 82 strikeouts and 79 walks in 149.1 innings pointed to some issues that could be problematic moving forward. 

Everything bottomed out for Halladay in 2000, throwing 67.2 innings with a 10.64 ERA and 149 baserunners allowed. That is the worst ERA in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched.

The Blue Jays sent him down to A ball in 2001, hoping that Halladay could rebuild his entire delivery to achieve some kind of success in the big leagues. As a first-round pick in the 1995 draft, the team had a lot invested in Halladay turning into an MLB pitcher, so he was going to get every opportunity to prove himself. 

In a 2003 Sports Illustrated article, Tom Verducci wrote about Halladay’s new delivery and a small bit of what the process was like. 

Halladay and pitching coach Gil Patterson fixed a minor flaw in the righthander’s delivery that caused his breaking pitches to hang against lefthanded hitters. “It wasn’t an ‘Oh, my God, here it is’ kind of thing,” Toronto G.M. J.P. Ricciardi says. “He figured out what he needed to do and corrected himself. He didn’t panic. Doc’s proof that good things happen to those who work hard.”

That move would turn Halladay’s career around for the better. He pitched a full season in 2002 with an ERA 2.93 in 239.1 innings, though it wasn’t quite the typical Halladay year we would come to expect because the strikeouts were low (168) and the walks were high (62).

But at least it was a significant step forward and set the stage for a 2003 season that would be much more in line with the next nine years of Halladay’s career. 

The 26-year-old Halladay threw 266 innings with nine complete games, 204 strikeouts and 32 walks. His 6.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in baseball.

Because of his performance in 2003, the Baseball Writers Association of America awarded Halladay the first Cy Young award of his career. 

From 2004-2011, Halladay was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He led all pitchers in Fangraphs‘ wins above replacement with 46.2, more than two full wins better than CC Sabathia. His 2.93 ERA was second among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings, behind Johan Santana.

He also had a 4.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio, trailing only Curt Schilling among starting pitchers. It should be noted that Schilling’s career ended after the 2007 season, so Halladay had four more full seasons of work. 

Halladay led the league in complete games seven times from 2003-11, including five consecutive years from 2007-11. He never threw fewer than 225 innings in a season from 2006-11 and had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio every year from 2008-11. 

During that same six-year stretch from 2006-11, Halladay never finished lower than fifth in Cy Young voting, including another win in 2010 and two runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2011. 

The wheels did come off incredibly fast, as Halladay was only able to make 25 starts in 2012 with 156.1 innings, a 4.49 ERA. His ERA+ of 90 was the first time it had been below average (100) since 2000, and his 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67 was the worst since 2007. 

Then of course we saw the mess that was Halladay’s 2013 season. But from the past decade, you would be hard-pressed to find a better pitcher in baseball. Some will knock him for lack of playoff success due to limited exposure, though you can’t blame him for playing in Toronto when Boston and New York were at the peak of their financial prowess. 

I would also point out that Halladay threw the second no-hitter in playoff history in his first postseason start against Cincinnati in 2010. 

No matter how you slice it, Halladay’s career turned into something not even the most optimistic person in Toronto’s front office or development staff would have imagined after that 2000 season. 


A Hall of Famer In Waiting?

Since the past criteria about Hall of Fame pitchers is outdated—You need 300 wins! You need to be feared! Blah, blah, blah!—Halladay presents a very interesting case for Cooperstown if the voters really give him a chance. 

The length of his career wasn’t very long compared to past Hall of Famers, but the peak might be as good as you will see. To me, Halladay is a lot like Pedro Martinez.

Let me start by saying that Martinez’s best seasons (1997-2003) were better than Halladay’s (2002-03, 2008-11), but both their careers came to abrupt ends clouding their Hall of Fame credentials. 

Fortunately, Jay Jaffe developed the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) system that measures a specific player’s Hall of Fame candidacy by comparing careers (both overall and peak years) to other players already enshrined. 

I should note that “peak” is defined as the seven best years of a player’s career. They don’t have to be consecutive seasons, though given the way players tend to age, most of the time that is how things fall into place. 

Using Fangraphs‘ wins above replacement, Halladay’s peak years accounted for 48.6 WAR and 67.6 career. 

Based on Jaffe‘s system, Halladay is slightly better in both categories than the average of the 58 starting pitchers already elected to the Hall of Fame (46.7 WAR peak, 66.7 WAR career). 

However, one thing that this system doesn’t take into account is hardware. There have been 16 players in history to win multiple Cy Young awards.

Of that group, seven are still active or not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame (Halladay, Santana, Martinez, Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux). Maddux, Glavine, Johnson and Martinez should go in the second they are eligible. 

(I say should because we have seen in the case of someone like Jeff Bagwell, who is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, where writers will create their own suspicions about a player and keep him out. There is also a stigma with a lot of voters about putting someone in on the first ballot.)

Roger Clemens isn’t going to get in because of the performance-enhancing drug baggage, though he absolutely warrants inclusion based on what he did. 

That leaves eight pitchers with multiple Cy Young awards eligible for the Hall of Fame. Only Bret Saberhagen and Denny McLain in that group are not in. They were different from Halladay because their peaks were so short that there was no way they would crack the ballot. 

Saberhagen had four seasons with an fWAR over 5.0 and just three years when he got Cy Young votes. McLain pitched 10 seasons, but he only spent six full seasons as a starter and retired after 1972 at the age of 28. 

Hallday’s track record is far more impressive than Saberhagen or McLain, not to mention the fact that he was widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball for years before his performance dropped and Justin Verlander took the throne for a couple of years. 

Regardless of how he looks now, Halladay’s resume certainly looks like that of a Hall of Famer. He meets all the logical criteria, despite not having the almighty win total because the way pitchers are used today is very different from the way they were even 20 years ago. 


The Legacy

So with all that information out there, how do we quantify what Halladay was able to do on the field? 

I am ready to put him in the Hall of Fame if Monday night was the last time he ever throws a pitch, so it’s hard to do much better than that. There will probably be a certain subset of fans and analysts who ding him for not winning a World Series. 

After all, the entire case that people used to try and get Jack Morris in the Hall of Fame were his performances in the 1984 and 1991 World Series, even though those people fail to realize just how average he was in the regular season and playoffs overall. 

How does Halladay get in without a World Series ring? Well, fortunately, thanks to advanced thinking, a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy is not tied strictly to the performance of an entire team. 

You could also argue that Halladay was the best pitcher of the last generation in baseball, putting up incredible numbers across the board in an era where offensive stats were blowing up. He was in a very select group of pitchers able to tame the mass outpouring of home runs.

Nothing that Halladay does now is going to change that. Even if the Hall of Fame doesn’t come calling, he still has one of the best six-year runs most of us will ever see. That is a strong legacy in its own right. 


Note: All stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.

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