Most people at the beginning of the season would have said the AL's best pitcher now resides with the New York Mets. There's plenty of points to argue that Johan Santana has been the best pitcher in the AL the past several seasons before his trade in the offseason. Tonight is a prime example as to why I never agreed.
Simple fact - Roy Halladay has more complete games since the beginning of 2003 than any pitcher in Major League baseball with 33. This comes over a total of 159 starts. He's had some arm troubles, mostly during the 2004 season, but most of the 35 or so starts he's missed in the last 6 seasons haven't been because he's "injury prone".
I could argue that Halladay's teammate and recently recalled outfielder Kevin Mench owes Halladay a few dinners. It's hard to forget that it was Mench's line drive off Halladay's shin that ended his 2005 season that was most likely leading to a 2nd Cy Young Award. That year at the break, Halladay was the front-runner to be the All-Star Starter (AL Manager Terry Francona said so at the time), had a 12-4 record, 2.41 ERA, 5 complete games,2 shutouts, and 108 K in 141 innings. Since it doesn't stick out, Bartolo Colon wound up getting the Cy Young with a 21-8 record, 157Ks and a 3.48 ERA.
Last year, Halladay missed 3 weeks due to an emergency appendectomy, and cost him 4 starts. Considering he got shelled by the Red Sox then had the surgery 24 hours later, it's not impossible to think that that illness cost Halladay a third 20 win season.
Halladay clinched his 2003 Cy Young Award by pitching a 10-inning shutout of the Tigers at home on the same day Esteban Loiaza got a loss. Today's performance against the Yankees wasn't far behind Halladay's 99 pitch gem that included 7 2/3 no-hit innings that afternoon against Detroit. I know - I watched tonight's 2-hit shutout of the New York on TV and saw that September 2003 performance from the right field seats at SkyDome.
While Halladay's season is excellent so far, he's been overshadowed by Cliff Lee, Francisco Rodriguez and Justin Duscherer who are all having great seasons in their own right. K-Rod might break the saves record. Joe Saunders and Cliff Lee each have one more win, and Lee's ERA is about a half run better, but no one finishes games like Halladay.
The Blue Jays offense could've turned a couple more of Halladay's outings to wins if they'd been more productive. The Blue Jays have scored a grand total of 9 runs in the 6 starts that Halladay has taken the loss, and only 7 of them came while Halladay was still in the game. I haven't looked it up, but I'm sure it's been a couple of decades since a pitcher threw 3 consecutive complete games and LOST ALL THREE.
Sure - everyone looks at wins and ERA first when voting for the Cy Young. If it's close, the next thing is either strikeouts or which team was in the playoffs or closest to getting in. Complete games and innings pitched often get overlooked.
Halladay I believe is the best pitcher in the AL despite his offense because he expects to go the distance every night out. He's currently leading the league in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and strikeouts (now that Sabathia has been traded), and in the top 5 in ERA, WHIP and tied for 2nd in wins.
His record since 2002 is 104-44, 3.21 ERA, 35 complete games and 8 shutouts in 194 starts. He has 967K against only 254 BB (a 3.8 K:BB ratio). He's totaled 1371 1/3 innings (7.1 IP per start), which by the end of the year will mean he's averaged 210+ innings per season over 7 seasons despite missing 35 starts due to injuries or illness. I'm curious to see if any pitcher comes close to his innings pitched over that 7-year span.
This year like 2005 makes you wonder "What if?". Now the what if isn't "What if that line drive doesn't break his tibia?" it's "What if the Jays offense had given him more than 7 runs in those 6 losses?". This wouldn't change the way he's pitched, but that won-loss record would be even better.
Cy Young this year or not - if you ask me who the best pitcher is in the American League, I will still tell you it's Roy Halladay. I'm sure the guys who've been in the Toronto bullpen the last several years would definitely agree.