Breaking Down Roy Halladay's Hall of Fame Case
Major League Baseball's winter meetings are a time for rumors, free-agent contracts, trades, Hall of Fame announcements and groundbreaking baseball news.
On Monday morning, the sport was treated to a major announcement about a pitcher who was once a big deal at the winter-meetings bonanza. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, free-agent starter Roy Halladay is retiring after 16 big-league seasons.
The longtime Blue Jays and Phillies starter exits the game after enduring two difficult seasons of shoulder injuries to his throwing arm. After transforming into one of the most durable and dominant starters for a decade, Halladay looked like a shell of his former self over the last two summers.
Halladay will make his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in five years, creating an interesting discussion in the baseball world.
Let's get the ball rolling by breaking down the future Cooperstown candidacy of the former right-handed pitching star.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Pro: Decade of Dominance
Over the last 16 years, few pitchers can boast credentials close to Roy Halladay. In fact, since his debut as a 21-year-old for the 1998 Toronto Blue Jays, Halladay is second in Major League Baseball in WAR among pitchers, trailing only Randy Johnson by a slight margin (66.4-65.6).
Yet, Halladay's career, due to inconsistency during his youth and recent injuries, should be looked at as a 10-year stretch of dominance rather than a 16-year run of excellence.
From 2002-2011 (subscription required), the 10 years Halladay spent terrorizing American League and National League East lineups, he finished No. 1 or 2 in ERA-plus (148), strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.57), innings pitched (2,194.2), complete games (63) and WAR (62.4). During that stretch, Halladay qualified for eight All-Star Games, won two Cy Youngs and received top-10 votes for league MVP in multiple seasons.
For a full decade, Halladay was clearly the best pitcher in baseball. His ability to throw a variety of pitches, to both corners, made him one of the best command artists in recent memory.
Over 95 percent of Halladay's value, in this case bWAR, was accumulated over that 10-year stretch. Now, when breaking down his case for Cooperstown, remember that he wasn't just a pitcher that competed for 16 seasons; he was on top of the sport for 10 straight at one juncture.
Con: Win Total
By the time Halladay's name appears on the official BBWAA ballot in 2018, the sabermetric viewpoint on win totals for starting pitchers may have fully engrossed fans, voters and media members around the sport.
Until that watershed moment happens, expect Halladay's (relatively) low win total to be held against him during conversations about Cooperstown. Winning 203 games over 16 years is nothing to be ashamed of, nor, when forward thinking comes into play, something that should be used in an anti-Halladay campaign.
However, it likely will, especially when it comes to voting him in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
As Jayson Stark of ESPN mentioned, the only HOF starter since World War II with fewer wins than Halladay is the legendary Sandy Koufax. Due to arm trouble that ended his storied career at the age of 30, Koufax was rewarded for a five-year stretch of dominance from 1962-1966 (111-34, 167 ERA+) that still ranks among the most eye-opening feats in sports history.
Of course, Halladay, despite injuries during both his early days in Toronto and most recently in Philadelphia, still did pitch 16 seasons in Major League Baseball. He can be compared to Koufax in the scope of low win totals, but the parallel stops there.
Among starters still vying for Cooperstown, or off the ballot due to lack of support, 54 non-HOF pitchers in baseball history have more wins than Halladay.
Pro: Multiple Cy Young Awards
Since the Cy Young Award was first given out in 1956, to the expansion of one award for each league in 1967 and beyond, scrolling through a list of past winners can give a telling glimpse of the top arms in Major League Baseball.
When identifying pitchers that have won the award more than once, the greatest hurlers over the last few generations emerge. Halladay, according to the company he keeps with fellow multiple-time Cy Young winners, is in a select group whose members usually find their way to Cooperstown.
As Philly.com's David Murphy pointed out in September, only 16 pitchers, including Halladay, in baseball history have captured multiple Cy Youngs. Of those 16, nine are not enshrined in Cooperstown.
Per Murphy's research, the non-Hall of Famers on that list include Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana, Denny McLain, Tim Lincecum, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine.
Soon, possibly within the next two years, Maddux, Glavine, Martinez and Johnson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. If the voters chose to recognize Clemens' legendary body of work, he would be a no-brainer.
Injuries have hampered Santana's run and Lincecum has fallen well off course after winning multiple Cys before the age of 30. Yet even if Santana and Lincecum don't revive their respective careers, 12 of the 16 multiple-Cy Young winners could one day call Cooperstown home.
Con: Career Length
After 67 career complete games and nearly 3,000 innings pitched, few modern baseball fans would consider Roy Halladay anything less than one of the most consistently durable pitchers in baseball history. It seemed like he made 30-to-35 starts per year, every year, during an amazing run of greatness.
Yet, despite all those innings and complete games, the time Halladay missed due to injury has curtailed his total number of starts compared to other Hall of Fame pitchers.
Of the 50 starters currently in the Hall of Fame, Halladay's 390 games started would rank 34th. That number isn't terribly low, but it's in stark contrast to people's perception of Halladay during his time in the game. Part of that, of course, is a result of how the game changed from the days of workhorses like Warren Spahn and Early Wynn to pitch counts, innings limits and season-ending shutdowns for talented young arms of today.
In the long history of baseball, Halladay doesn't come close to the most durable pitchers. Amazingly, if Halladay hung on to double his career start total, he'd still fall short of Cy Young's record 815.
If Halladay had been healthy enough to hang on for four or five more seasons, garnering over 100 more career outings, he would have vaulted into the top 25 in baseball history. Along with adding to the tallied statistics such as personal victories, the cons on his ledger would have subsided.
When comparing athletes through the prism of different eras, context is vital. As the game changes, we simply cannot make blanket statements regarding stats.
In Major League Baseball, the drastic changes the game underwent, from the Dead Ball Era to the Steroid Era, make comparing Hall of Fame players across decades a very difficult task.
When it comes to Halladay's Cooperstown credentials, context is everything. If the voters simply look at his body of work in relation to every pitcher across the decades of baseball history, expect him to fall short of induction time and again. In fact, Halladay's 3.38 career ERA doesn't rank in the top 300 in the history of baseball.
Some names ahead of him on that list of luminaries: Orvall Overall, Sam Leever and Hippo Vaughn.
If you remember watching those pitchers at the turn of the 20th century, congrats. For the rest of us, adjusted ERA, or ERA-plus, is a much, much better way to evaluate Halladay's place in the record books.
Without context, Halladay's 3.38 ERA is really good, but not legendary. When factoring in when and where he pitched, the equation changes.
From 1998-2009, Halladay pitched in Toronto's Sky Dome, later renamed Rogers Centre. Using ESPN's MLB Park Factors, we can see how difficult it was to pitch there during those years. In Halladay's 12 years in Toronto, his home park yielded home runs at a prolific rate, ranking in the top 10 in the league six times from 2001-2009.
Of course, those numbers, along with almost every offensive number in baseball, were shaped by the Steroid Era. Regardless of your definition of when the offensive explosion began in baseball, Halladay undoubtedly pitched in it. From 1998-2003, runs per game across the sport never dipped below 4.62, making double-digit-run games more commonplace than shutouts.
When factoring league and park effects into the equation, Halladay's adjusted ERA stands out among the pitching titans in the history of the sport.
Upon retirement, Halladay owned a career 131 ERA+. That figure is tied for 13th all-time among pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame or on the current ballot. Some names below Halladay on that list (subscription required): Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton.
Con: Similarity Scores
Baseball-Reference.com has many great features to help sort through the history of the game, compare eras and place special seasons in context. Among them: similarity scores.
The process of arriving at these scores, based on Bill James' original idea and explained here, attempts to compare different players based on their career stats, age and games played.
For Roy Halladay, the comparisons aren't bad, but don't expect them to be used in conjunction with his HOF resume. In fact, if they are used at all, it will be to support the hypothesis of a voter who doesn't believe Halladay meets the standards of Cooperstown.
The 10 most similar pitchers to Roy Halladay, per Baseball-Reference: Tim Hudson, CC Sabathia, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Jimmy Key, Dazzy Vance, Roy Oswalt, Bret Saberhagen, Lon Warneke and Bartolo Colon.
Outside of Vance, none of those pitchers are currently enshrined in Cooperstown. While Hudson, Sabathia, Oswalt and Colon are still active, it would seem only Sabathia has a great chance of enshrinement, with Hudson and Oswalt profiling as borderline candidates.
This revelation doesn't disqualify Halladay's Cooperstown candidacy, but it places him alongside eight or nine pitchers that likely won't ever join him there.
When a player has reached the point where an intelligent discussion about the Hall of Fame can commence, a stellar career is in the books.
Regardless of where you stand on Halladay, serious merit will come his way when the ballot includes his name in five years. From the decade of dominance to the multiple Cy Youngs, Halladay did enough to generate legitimate support for an eventual induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
From my perspective, the choice is simple: Roy Halladay should be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
The pros clearly outweigh the cons, no pitcher was better for a 10-year span, and the ability to finish a career with an adjusted earned run average in the top 35 in history is too much to ignore for any educated voter.
A career that began with a near no-hitter in Toronto, and evolved into a perfect game in 2010, should end with a plaque in Upstate New York.
Agree? Disagree? Is Roy Halladay a Hall of Famer?
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