It hurts to write the words. Roy Halladay has passed away, killed in the crash of a plane he was piloting, just 1/4 mile off the coast of New Port Richey, Florida. At the age of 40, four years after his final pitch in the major leagues and a few years from a likely ceremony for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Halladay is no longer with us.

As a longtime baseball fan who grew up in New York City, it was impossible for my mind not to wander to the name of Thurman Munson, the great Yankees catcher who died in a plane crash in a plane he was piloting in the middle of the 1979 season. It was not impossible not to think of Roberto Clemente, who was killed in the crash of a cargo plane delivering relief supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.

Halladay was a family man, father to two children. He was a humanitarian, a multiple nominee for the Clemente Award for his work with underprivileged children. And for ten years, from 2002 to 2011, he was the best pitcher in baseball. This piece will celebrate Halladay’s terrific career on the mound. Before getting to that, I’d like to share two links, one with the news about the fatal plane crash from espn.com. The second link is to a piece written by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. It’s a personal, moving and brilliantly written tribute. I cannot recommend this piece highly enough.

In this piece on Cooperstown Cred, I’ll be focusing solely on Halladay’s exploits on the diamond. He had an unusual and remarkable career, one that I believe will lead to a first-ballot induction into the Hall of Fame. If you’re not familiar with the advanced metrics ERA+ or WAR, please click on the respective underlined links.

Cooperstown Cred: Roy Halladay (eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019)

  • Career: 203-105 (.659), 3.38 ERA
  • Career: 131 park-adjusted ERA+ is 9th best in last 100 years with 2,000 min IP
  • Career: .659 career winning percentage is 5th best since 1900 (min. 2,000 IP)
  • Career: 65.6 WAR (best for all pitchers in the 21st century)
  • Two-time Cy Young Award winner (with Toronto in 2003, Philadelphia in 2010)
  • 5 times in top 3 of Cy Young Award voting (7 times in top 5)
  • 3-time 20-game winner (five times with 19 or more wins)
  • Led his league in complete games 7 times
  • Pitched perfect game in 2010 and no-hitter in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS
  • 8-time All-Star

(cover photo: Chicago Tribune)

Toronto Blue Jays (1998-2009)

Coming out of high school, Roy Halladay was the 17th overall pick in the 1995 amateur draft, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that had won the two previous World Series (in 1992 and ’93, with ’94 being the strike year in which the Fall Classic wasn’t played). After a couple of seasons in the minor leagues, he made his major league debut in September 1998. In his second big league start, he tossed a 1-hit, 1-run complete game against the Detroit Tigers, with no walks and 8 strikeouts. The one hit? A solo home run by Bobby Higginson with two outs in the 9th inning, ruining the shutout and perfect game.

Halladay made the Blue Jays roster in the spring of 1999 and spent the season as a spot starter and long man out of the bullpen, finishing the season with a 3.92 ERA. In 2000, he looked like one of those young phenoms who was just a flash in the pan. In between two demotions to AAA Syracuse, Halladay posted an ugly 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings with the Jays. In the spring of 2001, he was sent all the way down to A ball, but slowly got promoted to AA, then AAA and finally, thanks to working on his mental approach and with the help of pitching coach Mel Queen, he was back in the majors by the beginning of July. In a half season with the big club, he posted a 3.16 ERA in 105.1 innings.

The 2001 season was the last of Roy Halladay the prospect. He emerged as an ace in 2002, making his first All-Star team while going 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA. He also earned the nickname “Doc” from Toronto’s radio play-by-play man Tom Cheek, a nod to the famous Wild West figure from the 19th century, John Henry “Doc” Holliday. At 6 feet 6 inches and 225 pounds, the hard-throwing righty wore the nickname very well.

The following season, Doc Halladay won his first Cy Young Award, going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA while leading the majors with 266 innings pitched and 9 complete games. Halladay missed parts of the 2004 and 2005 seasons with injuries but came back strong in 2006, the beginning of a six-year run in which he averaged 236 innings pitched with a 2.86 ERA. In those six seasons, Halladay never finished outside the top 5 of his league’s Cy Young voting. In 2008, Halladay won 20 games for the second time (going 20-11 with a 2.78 ERA) and finished second in the Cy Young balloting to Cleveland’s Cliff Lee (a deserving winner, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA).

Philadelphia Philles (2010-2013)

After the 2009 season, with free agency looming 12 months later, Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, a powerhouse team that had won the last two N.L. pennants. The Phils were on the top of Doc’s list of potential trade destinations. Although he loved his time in Toronto (taking out a full-page newspaper ad to thank the fans), Halladay was yearning to perform in the post-season. The Jays has been shut out from the post-season during his entire 12-year run.

Halladay adapted very well to his new league; he went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA, a MLB-leading 250.2 innings and 9 complete games. For his efforts, Doc earned his second Cy Young Award trophy. There are only five other pitchers who have won the Cy Young Award in both leagues. Their names are Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Max Scherzer. Nice company, eh?

Did I forget to mention that Halladay’s 2010 campaign included a perfect game and a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS against Cincinnati? The Phillies, who had won 97 games in the regular season, were favored to make their third World Series in a row but they fell to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

Doc had another magnificent campaign in 2011, going 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA (finishing 2nd in the Cy Young balloting to a young Dodger left-hander named Clayton Kershaw). The 2011 Phillies won a major league best 102 games and were heavy favorites in their N.L. Division Series matchup against the Wild Card St. Louis Cardinals. Behind an 11-run offensive outburst and 8 innings of 3-run ball by their ace Halladay, the Phillies won Game 1 of the NLDS. The Redbirds took two of the next three games, leading to a winner-take-all Game 5 in Philadelphia.

Game 5 was a classic pitching duel. It was a bout between two of the best starters in the National League and two players who were great friends; they were teammates at AAA Syracuse in 1997 and with the Blue Jays from 1998-2002. Carpenter never amounted to much in Toronto but flourished in St. Louis, winning the 2005 N.L. Cy Young Award; in 2009, he finished second in the voting to Halladay.

In this matchup of long-time friends, Halladay tossed 8 innings of one-run ball. Unfortunately for Doc and the Phillies, the Carpenter did just a bit better, tossing a complete game 3-hit shutout to hand St. Louis a 1-0 victory. The win led the Cardinals to the NLCS and ultimately a World Series title.

2011 was the final season for Roy Halladay as a Cooperstown-caliber pitcher. Shoulder woes limited him to 25 starts in 2012 and just 13 the next year. He retired after the 2013 season.

The Hall of Fame Case for Roy Halladay

The positive case is pretty simple. He won 2 Cy Young Awards (one in each league). He was a 3-time 20-game winner. He was an 8-time All-Star. His career winning percentage was .659 (winning 203 games with 105 losses). For all pitchers tossing at least 2,000 innings, that’s the fifth best winning percentage since 1900. The only pitchers better were Whitey Ford, Pedro Martinez, Lefty Grove and Christy Mathewson, Hall of Famers all.

The one statistic that stands out for me, however, is Halladay’s 67 complete games. That total puts him in an 8-way tie for 636th on the all-time list. OK, that doesn’t sound as impressive as having the fifth best winning percentage, does it? Well, as we all know, every pitching era is different. Halladay’s 67 complete games is the most in the last 20 years, 13 better than Randy Johnson‘s 54.

During his ten-year peak (2002-2011), Doc had 63 complete games. The second best was 33, for CC Sabathia. Unless the dynamics of the game change significantly, Halladay’s 65 complete games in the 21st century is a total unlikely to be matched in the next 83 years. Halladay was the 2000’s version of what Jack Morris was in the 1980’s, the workhorse who pitched deeper into games than anyone else.

Courtesy Baseball Reference
Top Three in various statistical categories for pitchers (from 2002-2011) (min. 1,500 IP)
Top ThreeWinsTop ThreeERATop ThreeERA+
Roy Halladay170Johan Santana2.90Johan Santana150
CC Sabathia159Roy Halladay2.97Roy Halladay148
Derek Lowe146Roy Oswalt3.25Roy Oswalt131
Top ThreeSO/WTop ThreeCGTop ThreeWAR
Roy Halladay4.57Roy Halladay63Roy Halladay62.4
Dan Haren4.04CC Sabathia33Johan Santana50.1
Johan Santana3.90Livan Hernandez32CC Sabathia47.7

Johan Santana was the second best pitcher during this ten-year period but his peak was even shorter than Halladay’s. Santana posted an eight-year run (from 2003-2010) in which he went 122-60 with a 2.89 ERA (park-adjusted for a 150 ERA+, which is 50% better than average). If you just take those eight years, the Twins and Mets left-hander was slightly better than Doc, but only slightly. For those extra two years (2002 and 2011) on the front and back ends of Santana’s peak featured, Halladay authored a 38-13 record with a 2.64 ERA in 473 innings.

Santana, incidentally, also had his career cut short by injury. He’s on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2018 and, although his career was brief, has a Cooperstown case to make based on the value of his eight-year peak. You can read more about Santana in my piece A Case in Peak Value.

So let’s look at Doc’s negatives. Halladay had a relatively short career, not as short as Santana’s, but short. He finished with 2,749.1 innings pitched. Only five Hall of Fame starting pitchers in MLB history have tossed fewer. Sandy Koufax is the only one of those five who has pitched in the last 70 years.

Next, Halladay’s total of 203 career wins is going to be a problem for some of the writers who vote for the Hall of Fame candidates. Only ten Hall of Fame starters have less than 203 wins. Again, Koufax is the only one of those ten who toed the rubber in the last 70 MLB seasons.

If you think that pitcher wins don’t matter anymore, consider that there are two superb pitchers from the 1990’s and 2000’s who have each already been on the baseball writers’ ballot for several years and are both far away from the 75% vote that is required to be inducted into the Hall. I’m talking about Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Mussina got 52% of the vote in 2017; Schilling got 45%. Neither one will make it in 2018 which means they’ll both be on the ballot with Halladay for the 2019 vote.

Courtesy Baseball Reference
CareerIPWLWL%ERACGSO/WWHIPERA+WAR
Mike Mussina3562.2270153.6383.68573.581.19212382.7
Curt Schilling3237.2216142.6033.42834.451.13212981.6
Roy Halladay2749.1203105.6593.38673.581.17813165.6

If you just look at the numbers, it should be pretty clear that Halladay should be third on the list. Mussina has 67 more wins. Schilling has just 13 more wins but a significantly superior WHIP and strikeout/walk ratio. One of Doc’s chief calling cards (his 67 complete games), is 16 shy of Schilling’s 83 (remembering that Schilling started his career 10 years earlier, before finishing what you started went out of style).

Anyway, looking at the numbers, if Mussina and Schilling are both still far away from the Hall of Fame, why did I write that Halladay will likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? There are three reasons:

  1. Halladay won two Cy Young Awards. Neither Mussina and Schilling were able to win one (they can both thank Randy Johnson for that).
  2. Halladay’s peak was focused. He was the best pitcher in the game over a 10-year period of time. Because Moose and Schill were contemporaries of Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux, they were never considered the best in the game.
  3. Sadly, Halladay’s untimely death may very well result in a quick entry into the Hall of Fame.

Let me dwell on #3 for a moment. Think about this for a moment. The members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (the BBWAA) are notorious for torturing second-level Hall of Fame candidates for years. Compared to the Big Unit, Pedro and Maddux, the three hurlers we’re talking about are second-level.

I can’t get in the mind of each of the hundreds of BBWAA votes but I suspect something like the following will be going through their respective brains: “I’m going to vote for Halladay eventually so I might as well vote for him now. How would I feel if he fell a few percentage points short? His family suffered a terrible loss. We should give them some joy with a celebration of his life in baseball and we should do it as soon as possible. Other players can wait.”

I could be completely wrong and this opinion might be a raw gut reaction to the horrible news, the rawness of which will naturally dissipate as time passes. It doesn’t change the fact that Roy Halladay is worthy of a plaque in the Hall of Fame. He’ll be in eventually; hopefully it will be in the summer of 2019.

Thanks for reading.

Chris Bodig

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