What a terrifying thought for the National League. Roy Halladay, a 34-year-old pitcher with a history of utter dominance, is beginning 2011 with the best numbers of his career, and by a wide margin. Forget the two Cy Young seasons. Forget the seven All-Star games. Roy Halladay has taken a massive leap forward in 2011, and the result is a trail of destruction blazed straight through the National League.
Halladay’s presence at the top of the pitching leaderboards is staggering: he leads the entire majors in innings, complete games, strikeouts and K/BB ratio, and he leads the NL in wins and walk rate. With this plethora of qualifications, it should come as no surprise that he also leads the major leagues in FIP, xFIP and, by nearly an entire win, Wins Above Replacement. Oh, and his 2.35 ERA is pretty good too.
Not that Doc hadn’t exhibited the total package of pitching in the past, but this year, he’s really bringing it all together. His swinging strike rate of 11% is his highest since 2002, when we first have the data, and, likely related, his strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine innings is his highest by nearly a full point since he began starting full time that very same year. His ground ball rate of 54% is his best mark since 2006. His walk rate of 1.4 per nine innings is actually a middle-of-the-road mark for Halladay, but I won’t judge him too harshly for only leading one of the two leagues in the statistic.
Of course, as with most ridiculous starts to a season, there are a few markers of unsustainable performance. Whether it’s due to good luck or an adjustment by Halladay which hitters have yet to correct for or simply two really, really “on” months, there’s no chance of Halladay continuing to only let 3% of his fly balls leave the yard. With the other two key “luck” statistics for pitchers, LOB% and BABIP, Halladay’s marks are well within reason: his 76% LOB is only about four points better than league average, and his .311 BABIP allowed is actually well worse than the league average (down at .286 so far this year).
Even with some regression on fly balls, though, Halladay could still put up some of his best pitching ever in the latter two thirds of this season. His 2.26 xFIP is by far his best career mark (2.80 last year is his previous best), as his improvements in strikeouts and groundball rate are the real drivers behind Halladay’s incredible start. If he continues to pitch like this for 22 more starts, his WAR would check in at a nearly incomprehensible 10.8, a full 2.8 wins better than his previous high in 2003. Although a bit of a cool down is likely in store, the odds are good for something that would have been considered nearly impossible entering this season: the best season of Halladay’s legendary career comes at age 34 in 2011.