Philadelphia Phillies co-ace Roy Halladay suffered through a rough exhibition outing on Tuesday against Detroit, surrendering home runs to Ramon Santiago and Don Kelly, walking four batters, and barely popping radar guns with 84-85 MPH fastballs.
Coming off arguably the worst season of his career, there is a sense of concern in Philadelphia. While speculating on potential injury has become in vogue, it's likely that Roy Halladay is simply running out of bullets in his right arm. He may not be done, but former pitchers in his class—starters in baseball history with at least 2,600 IP and spectacular ERA+ marks—have been accustomed to dramatic dips in career performance around the innings mark Halladay has presently reached.
Using Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index and sorting by adjusted ERA, only 159 pitchers since 1901 have reached the 2,600 IP mark. Of course, that doesn't truly tell the story of Halladay's dominance. Of those 159, only 10 starters in the history of baseball have a better career ERA+ mark than Halladay. For the purposes of this piece, we're ruling out those that haven't debuted in the past 50 years.
Will Roy Halladay ever return to an All-Star level?
Using those parameters, the five pitchers most similar to Halladay in terms of innings pitched and ERA+ are Pedro Martinez (154+), Roger Clemens (143+), Randy Johnson (135+), Greg Maddux (132+), and Curt Schilling (127+).
Heading into the 2013 season, Halladay has thrown 2,687.1 IP over 377 big league starts, including 66 complete games. His career adjusted ERA of 134 places him just below Martinez, Clemens, and Johnson. His mark is slightly better than Maddux and Schilling.
Of course, the final numbers for those future Hall of Famers are finished products. Halladay is still pitching. Unlike win total, his ERA+ is likely to only trend down as his career unfolds. As will his effectiveness.
Those five former stars weren't necessarily done when they hit the innings mark Halladay sits at heading into 2013, but there's a direct correlation toward their careers before and after comparable innings. In other words, they hit a wall. The same wall Halladay might have reached.
Through the first 2,513 IP of Pedro Martinez's career, his ERA+ was 166. Afterwards, it was 94, or in other words, below league average. He pitched to a 4.58 ERA over 314 IP to round out his career.
Through the first 2,776 IP of Roger Clemens' career, his ERA+ was 114. Afterwards, it was 140. Of all the names listed, he was able to keep his performance the most level through the years.
Through the first 2,748 IP of Randy Johnson's career, his ERA+ was 141. It was 125 beyond that number, including a 5.00 ERA for the Yankees in 2006.
Through the first 2,849 IP of Greg Maddux's career, his ERA+ was 146. It was 117 beyond that mark.
Through the first 2,812 IP of Curt Schilling's career, his ERA+ was 131. He dipped to 110+ for the rest of his career, including a stint as a reliever in Boston.
In 2012, Halladay saw his ERA rise over two runs, and a shoulder injury landed him on the disabled list. His K/9 mark dipped to 7.60, its lowest since 2008. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity fell to 90.6 MPH, the lowest mark of his big league career.
It's widely assumed that the Phillies are the third best team in the National League East behind Washington and Atlanta. That doesn't mean they can't be a postseason threat, though. If you believe in the former National League juggernaut, it's likely because of stellar starting pitching.
Last year may have been an aberration for Halladay and the Phillies.
Or it may have been the beginning of the end for a Hall of Fame starter and the best team Philadelphia has ever fielded. The careers of Martinez, Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, and Schilling serve as a wake-up call for Halladay supporters and detractors. Dissecting every Halladay pitch this spring has some merit, but the wear and tear is already done.
Joe Giglio is a MLB Lead Writer covering the NL and AL East. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports.