This coming July should hold a special moment for Blue Jays fans, no matter how the team is faring on field. It should mark the second time we see someone inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with a Blue Jays cap on. Because folks, in 2019, the late great Roy Halladay should be in.
When I first started working on this piece, I actually wasn’t entirely sure of that last statement. Don’t get me wrong. Halladay was my favorite Blue Jay in his dozen years with Toronto and made me cheer on Philadelphia when he was traded. I’d say few were as elated as me when “Doc” pitched that no hitter in the NL playoffs in his first year there (2010) , but in fact I bet half of Canada was. We all loved Halladay.
That said, did his numbers really merit being in Cooperstown? If he gets elected will it be merely a pity vote due to his unfortunate and accidental death last year? The answer to those questions is A) yes he does, and B) no it wouldn’t be. Let’s examine that. And let’s keep in mind some of the starting pitchers likewise voted into the Hall this decade – Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Jack Morris – and one who missed out last year (with about 63% support), Mike Mussina.
To recap Roy’s career, he pitched in 16 major league seasons, pitched 416 games, 390 of them starts, with a 203-105 won-lost record. He hurled 2749 innings, with 2117 strikeouts to a measly 592 walks (which one notes, is fewer than 2 per start.) He completed 67 games and had 1 save to boot. Career ERA was a stellar 3.38. And of course there was the Phillies magnificence with the regular season perfect game and playoff no-hitter, only the second one of those ever tossed. In the limited time he got to appear in the post-season he was 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA over 5 starts. To point out the obvious there, big-game star that he was, he pitched more effectively (lower ERA) in the post-season than in the regular. He led the league in the K:BB ratio 5 times and innings pitched four. All that added up to 8 All Star game selections and a pair of Cy Youngs, one AL, one NL. Baseball Reference company calculate his career WAR (wins above replacement) at 64, or 4 per season.
So how do those numbers compare? Well, his career .659 winning percentage bests the likes of Greg Maddux (.610) and even Randy Johnson (.646). It was even more remarkable when you consider that Toronto, in the Halladay seasons, never made the playoffs and were basically just a .500 team – 977 wins, 966 losses. Take out his atrocious 2000 year (in which he had an ERA of over 10, leading to his demotion to single-A the beginning of the next season and a rapid ascent to the top afterwards) and his career ERA drops to 3.20.
He averaged 6 2/3 innings per start, essentially identical to Maddux and Johnson. And let’s not forget those 67 complete games. It will be a long time ,and require many changes to prevailing managing strategies for us to see the likes of that again. For comparison, Justin Verlander, as fierce a competitor as one’s likely to find on the mound these days, has 24 over 15 seasons. “Doc” went out there with the mindset that he was starting the game, he was finishing the game and his team was going to win.
His 3.6 strikeouts to a walk is a better ratio than Maddux’s or Glavine’s (Glavine was only 1.7). But perhaps the crowning achievement was the 3.38 ERA over those 16 years, most of them years when longballs and offense-is-everything philosophies were king. That number falls right between Randy Johnson (3.29) and Tom Glavine (3.54, despite pitching in the “easier” National all his career.) What’s more, his adjusted “ERA+” is 1.31, meaning his number was typically 31% better than the league average , which worked out to 4.42 during the seasons he was active. Glavine was only 18% better, Morris a piddly 5%. If you’re thinking, “well, that’s good but it’s not Bob Gibson –good” well guess what? Over his 17 years, the Cards’ superstar posted a 2.91 ERA which was only 29% better than average. Clearly all of Halladay’s stats point towards being very much Hall of fame-bound.
Is there an argument against Roy? Yep, two…and we’ll deflate both.
First, the “yes he was good, but he didn’t pitch long enough” one. I must admit, I thought this could be true. Greg Maddux pitched 23 seasons, Johnson went 22, hanging up the glove at age 45. But that old grinder Jack Morris lasted only 2 seasons more (18) and as just mentioned, one of the all-time greats, Bob Gibson only had one extra year on Halladay. And among recent position players, catcher Mike Piazza had 16 years as well and Blue Jays infield inductee Roberto Alomar, 17. We would have liked to see him hang in there for a couple more years if he felt up to it, but it’s clear 16 seasons is enough for a player with such a high level of success during them.
Last but not least, an argument I imagine many Bronx and Baltimore fans might make: Mike Mussina was good too, and missed out by about 12% of the vote last year. Mussina logged 18 seasons, going 270-153, an average of 15 wins per season and he went the distance 57 times. He’s the only recent pitcher to match Halladay in the strikeouts to walk category and had an OK ERA of 3.68, pitching exclusively in the tough AL East (an ERA we add that was .22 better than Jack Morris’). Basball reference cite Mussina for an 83 career WAR, or better than 4 wins added to his team every season.
Yes, those numbers are impressive. But when looked at in context, all it really tells us is that Mussina was likely ripped off. Somehow he didn’t have the image of a “Superstar” and enough voters must have looked at it that way to exclude him. In time, he’ll probably make it to Cooperstown… as should the late Roy Halladay.
Mariano Rivera should be in unanimously with this winter’s ballot; there are good arguments for the likes of Todd Helton … but whomever is there, we should see Brandy Halladay up on the podium next summer, representing her departed husband, and the Blue Jays organization.