Monday, December 9, 2013

Halladay Hangs it Up

Halladay is calling it quits after back-to-back down seasons
36 year-old free agent Roy Halladay is going back to the Toronto Blue Jays, ending, any speculation of whether he would return to the mound next year. The catch is that he signed a one-day contract, meaning he will be able to retire as a member of the team that made him a first round draft pick in 1995 and watched him mature into probably the best pitcher in franchise history.

Starting in 2002, Halladay put together a ten-year run that's about as good as any pitcher has ever had. He went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA (148 ERA+) and a 1.11 WHIP. He also sustained a ridiculous 4.57 K/BB ratio and averaged nearly 220 innings per year, despite making just 40 starts in 2004 and 2005 combined. He made eight All-Star teams and was easily the most valuable pitcher in baseball during that stretch, which is reflected by his strong Cy Young vote totals. A two-time winner (in 2003 and 2010), he also finished runner-up twice, third once, and fifth two other times. He polled in the top five every year from 2006 through 2011.

His combination of command and durability made him one of the game's elite. During a time when pitchers were often criticized for not pitching as deep into games as their predecessors, Halladay bucked the trend. He routinely logged more than 230 innings per season, leading the league in that department four times, and compiled as many as 266 in his first Cy Young campaign in 2003, the most any American League hurler had thrown since Roger Clemens in 1991. No one in either league has come within ten innings of that mark since. He was so efficient, so economical with his pitches, that he was pretty much a lock to go at least seven innings every time he toed the rubber. No wonder he led the league in complete games seven times in nine years, including a season (2005) when he made 19 starts. He was truly in a league of his own.

Of course, there's more to Halladay than his impressive innings totals. His 3.38 ERA is also very good, especially for someone who pitched the first half of his career in the so called "steroid era" and spent 12 of his 16 seasons in the AL East. He almost never walked anybody, and in the second half of his career he began posting impressive strikeout totals as well.

Based on the level of dominance he displayed in his early 30s, Halladay's career seemed to be following the trajectory of Curt Schilling's. Then in 2012, the year he turned 35, he hit a brick wall. His walk rate ballooned, his strikeout rate dropped, and opponents began taking him yard more regularly. His velocity plummeted and he had difficulty locating his pitches. Over the last two years, he just wasn't the same pitcher. Age and injuries reduced him to a shell of his former self. But that doesn't diminish how exceptional he was during his prime.

Thanks to that incredible peak, JAWS rates him comfortably within the top 50 starting pitchers of all-time, sandwiched between Bob Feller and Juan Marichal--two no-doubt Hall of Famers. but a bit below the average inductee at the position. Although Halladay's peak stacks up well against most Hall of Famers, his lack of longevity (only eight seasons with more than 25 starts) means his career totals are slightly lacking. He's a good Hall of Fame candidate, especially since he was widely regarded as one of baseball's best pitchers when he played (and threw a no-hitter in the postseason to boot), but isn't the slam-dunk that some of his peers--Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson--are. He won't get in on the first-ballot, but should get enshrined eventually.

Halladay had a heck of a run, and I for one am sad to see it end.

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