Friday, April 17, 2009

How Good Is Roy Halladay?

Is Roy Halladay the best pitcher in baseball? He is 3-0 to start this season, and has been dominant in all three starts. He was the runaway Cy Young award winner in 2003 (going 23-7 and throwing a whopping 266 innings in the process), was the most dominant pitcher in the American League in 2005 (12-4, 0.96 WHIP) before a freak line drive up the middle broke his leg. In 2006 he led the American League in winning percentage (16-5) despite the fact that the rest of his team was so mediocre that they had a losing record in games in which Halladay did not get a decision. In 2007 he won 16 games for Blue Jays team on which nobody hit above .297, hit more than 26 home runs or stole more than 17 bases.

But perhaps most impressive was his 2008 season. Last year, Halladay went 20-11 on a Blue Jays team with a mediocre bullpen and a lineup that did not feature a single batter with an OBP above .354 or slugging percentage above .496. He led the league in innings pitched (246), WHIP (1.05), complete games (9) and shutouts (2). At one point, he threw four consecutive complete games, allowing a total of only 10 runs, and managed to lose three of them, because the offense behind him could not score. And he put up these numbers in the strongest division in baseball, in which his team had to play a total of 57 games against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays, who were arguably three of the five best teams in baseball last year.

I saw Roy Halladay pitch in person once, in Yankee Stadium near the end of the 2007 season. Halladay shut the Yankees down for eight innings - the Yankees hit one weak ground ball after another; almost nothing got out of the infield. Halladay left the field to a substantial ovation - the New York crowds had a real respect for him - only to see his bullpen squander a three-run lead in the ninth inning. That sort of thing happens in baseball, but it happens far more often on the Blue Jays than it does on the Yankees or Red Sox, and Halladay is underrated around the league (and probably in historical terms) because of it. But he's really, really good. Make some time to watch him the next time the Blue Jays play on national TV.

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