Perfection: Roy Halladays Underrated Career Feels More Complete
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Someday, Roy Halladay will be enshrined in the baseball hall of fame. What seemed like a certainty was made a formality when he set down all 27 Marlins he faced on Saturday. It’s understood that Halladay is one of the greats in the game today: he reminds us of this every five days. However, the allure of this perfect game will be somewhat short-lived, if only because he’s already sharing the limelight with Dallas Braden, and his perfect game of three weeks ago. This is a recurring theme for Halladay. He’s more of a modern day Bert Blyleven or Tom Glavine than another Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez: history isn’t going to reflect just how great Halladay has actually been in this decade, because awards of the decade never reflected that Halladay was the most dominant pitcher of the post-Maddux/Pedro/Clemens era.
It seems ludicrous to suggest that someone else has been better, though. Halladay won 22 games in his breakout season in 2003, and was awarded the Cy Young award that season. He missed starts in each of the next two years, but from 2006-2009, it probably would have been defensible to give Halladay the award every one of those seasons. He finished 3rd, 5th, 2nd, and 5th, respectively, in the AL voting. Johan Santana had a career year in 2006, but even Chin-Ming Wang got more love from the voters than Halladay that year. In 07, he lapped the field with 7 complete games, but his 3.71 ERA caused voters to shy away (these mid decade Toronto defenses were awful) He got jobbed in 2008, when he threw 23 more innings than Cliff Lee, but lost the award mainly because Lee finished 2/10ths of a run better in ERA. He was probably the third best pitcher in the AL last year after Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez, but finished a distant 5th in the voting. This year, he’s in another dogfight with Ubaldo Jimenez, one that he may or may not win, but there’s hardly any other competitors (Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright will battle for a distant third).
As good as Halladay was before 2008, he really upped his value by mixing his ability to dominate hitters with precision and depressing pitch counts with the ability to get the strike out. The increase from about 6 K/9 to 7.5 has dropped the amount of hits that Halladay is giving up, which made perfection something of an eventual inevitability: he just had to run into a team who wouldn’t be able to wake the bats up. Jimenez and Halladay are both on pace for the first 10 WAR season by a pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2000. It’s hardly a given that either will get there: Greinke came up a win short in 2009, while Greg Maddux and Johan Santana has never even gotten to that level. Halladay: he just might.
His three year run of absolute dominance hasn’t been seen since, well, probably since Bob Gibson did it at the same point in his career in the late 60s. Gibson, from 1968-70, managed a 2.13 ERA, throwing an incredible 20 shutouts, and a 166 ERA+. But in these last three years, Halladay has a 160 ERA+, a WHIP only 2/100ths higher, and 9 shutouts (and counting) in just over half the innings. Maddux, Martinez, and Clemens all have three year stretches where they are better in either WHIP or ERA+, but not both. That’s how good Halladay has been.
The scariest thing about Halladay is that there’s no objective reason to assume that he’ll stop being historically great at years end and start being a run-of-the-mill All-Star. This could be a four, five, or six year run of dominance at current rates, and with the backing of the Phillies offense, that could mean another eighty wins or so in the next 3 and a half years. Halladay could, somewhat quietly, be the next guy to win 300 games, and it’s not out of the question that if he avoids injury, he could do it before his 40th birthday. It sure looks like injury is the only thing that can stop him at this point.
Of course, given the recent events in Halladay’s career, perhaps beating him should not be the thing on the minds of NL hitters. They could start by just getting a hit off him.