Roy Halladay’s death was shocking. His legacy as one of MLB’s greats will live on forever.
For one reason or another, I had found myself thinking quite a bit about former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay during the playoffs and World Series this year. I suppose it stemmed from my attempt to convince myself that Justin Verlander is destined for the Hall of Fame. Halladay is one of the top comparisons for Verlander, according to Baseball-Reference. I never thought the fates would lead me back to Halladay a few weeks later to ponder his legacy under the cloud of his tragic, early death.
Take a look at the eight-time All-Star’s career ledger, and immediately the bold text pops off the page. Over the course of his 16 years in Major League Baseball, Halladay led the league in a statistical category 48 times. He led the MLB in complete games five straight years from 2007 to 2011, was tops in strikeout-to-walk ratio five times, led baseball in wins and shutouts twice and ranked near the top of the leaderboard countless times.
Halladay was, simply put, a workhorse — the likes of which MLB may never see again.
The game of baseball has changed in more ways than one since Halladay retired after the 2013 season due to shoulder trouble. The most noticeable is the continuing trend of a decreased workload for starting pitchers. Only eight starters threw more than one complete game in 2017 and only 15 logged more than 200 innings. Chris Sale led the majors with 214.1 innings in 32 starts. Halladay threw more innings than that eight times in his career. No one has thrown more than 250 innings in a regular season since Verlander did it in 2011. CC Sabathia is the only other pitcher to accomplish the feat in the past ten years.
In 2003, when Halladay won his first Cy Young by winning 22 games with a 3.25 ERA and throwing 266 innings, 44 MLB pitchers topped 200 innings. En route to the World Series title this year, Verlander finished with 242.2 total innings, including the postseason. Teams are no longer willing to allow their starter to stay in and pitch to a lineup three times based on what the numbers say.
One of my favorite MLB twitter accounts, @theaceofspaeder, has been filling up his timeline since the Halladay news broke yesterday with amazing statistical nuggets. Some of the things Halladay accomplished in his career are simply incredible. For example, he was the first pitcher since Cy Young in 1905 to strike out at least 200 in a season with fewer than 30 walks. Halladay threw 17 complete games with fewer than 101 pitches, one of them was a complete-game shutout on Oct. 5, 2001 that required only 83 pitches. A higher percentage of Halladay’s career starts ended in a complete game than any of his contemporaries like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.
This one, perhaps more so than any other Halladay factoid, blows me away.
Halladay was just incredible to watch, and future generations of baseball fans may never quite understand his style of pitching. He never struck out more than a batter an inning, topping out at 8.5 per nine in 2011. In 2006, he made the All-Star team and won 16 of 21 decisions while striking out only 5.4 per nine. Halladay’s fastball command and ability to generate late movement on all of his pitches was what made him truly special. He never had to hunt strikeouts, instead relying on his defense to make plays on all of the weak contact he generated.
It was never boring to watch a Roy Halladay start. He worked quickly and with a purpose for every pitch he threw. His pitch efficiency allowed him to get through each inning of his career with an average of fewer than 15 pitches. Most at-bats against him were over in the blink of an eye, unlike so many laborious trips to the plate today that go all the way to 3-2 as pitchers attempt to make that perfect pitch for a strikeout.
There was no one special thing that stood out about Halladay’s arsenal. His fastball wasn’t the best in the league and his breaking ball didn’t fall off a table. His accomplishments came on the back of hours and hours of hard work spent perfecting his mechanics. His release point never changed. It took a trip down to Single-A after allowing 107 hits in 67.2 innings in 2000 to get there, but by God, Roy Halladay got there.
I don’t think Major League Baseball will soon see another pitcher like the man who died on Tuesday in a plane crash, living out his boyhood fantasies experiencing the wonder of flight. The 250-inning pitcher is gone forever. Maybe that’s good, given the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries. It’s still strange to reflect on Halladay’s legacy and consider the fact that he may very well be the final entry in a long list of MLB pitchers who went out there and finished what they started more often than not.
A ten-year peak from 2002 to 2011 where he won 170 games and had a 2.97 ERA while throwing 63 complete games and averaging over seven innings a start is more than enough to secure Roy Halladay entrance into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when his time comes. He deserves his honor among the best the sport has to offer because that is what he truly was — a fierce competitor, tireless worker, master of the craft of pitching and, most importantly, one of the truly great human beings ever to play the game of baseball.