Roy Halladay Isn’t Just a Borderline Hall of Famer

The late Roy Halladay will appear on next year’s ballot. (Photo: DGriebeling)

Among the players who’ll appear on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot, Mariano Rivera is likely to stand out as a no-doubter in his first try. He’s the all-time saves leader. He was dominant in the regular season and even more dominant in the playoffs. He’s regarded as the greatest reliever ever, and he did it all with just a single pitch.

Roy Halladay might not possess the same quantity of superlatives as Rivera, but he is worthy of enshrinement and there is little reason to delay his entry to the Hall past next year. Halladay’s untimely passing will likely bring a more somber tone to his candidacy. At this site, both Jeff Sullivan and Dave Cameron wrote touching tributes to Halladay’s career after his death. That said, Halladay needn’t benefit from sympathy or nostalgia to earn a place in the Hall. His case on the merits is very strong.

Based on the traditional measures alone, the argument for Halladay is decent, if not rock solid. Some notable facts:

So this is already a good start, but Halladay’s case goes well beyond these basic facts, too.

Halladay’s career was defined by greatness in an era dominated by hitters. Consider: since 1901, only 203 pitchers have reached 2,500 innings. Of those 203 pitchers, Halladay’s 3.38 career ERA ranks just 91st. But offense was hovering around record levels during much of his time as an active player. Relative to the era in which he pitched, Halladay’s actually prevented runs at a rate 24% better than average, and that mark actually ranks 15th since 1901. All 14 pitchers ahead of him by that measure are in the Hall of Fame except for Roger Clemens.

Halladay’s fielding-independent numbers were nearly identical to his raw run-prevention ones. His career 78 FIP- (that is, 22% better than average) ranks 10th all-time behind only Hall of Famers and Roger Clemens. The only players with an era-adjusted FIP and ERA better than Roy Halladay since 1901 are Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Rube Waddell, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, and Cy Young.

Halladay also possesses one of the greatest pitching peaks of all time, and it lasted for more than a decade. From 2001 to -12, Halladay averaged 5.5 WAR per year. From 2002-11, meanwhile, the 58.7 WAR he compiled was nearly 10 wins higher than second-place CC Sabathia. Of course, cherry-picking a player’s best seasons can be a bit misleading, leading to stats like “most wins in the ’80s.” Perhaps such a thing has some significance, but it also favors pitchers who were particularly good between arbitrary endpoints.

To avoid that sort of bias, we can look at just “10-year runs” by themselves to see which pitchers truly had the best decades. For this post, I looked for every 10-year run by pitchers who recorded at least 54 WAR during that (within roughly five of Halladay’s own mark).

Cy Young debuted in 1890. From 1890 to -99, he averaged about six wins per year. Kid Nichols was roughly as valuable during that same period. Over the next 125 or so seasons, 21 more pitchers joined Young and Nichols in that groupe. Of those 23, 18 are now in the Hall of Fame, nearly all of them were elected by the writers (who tend to have a higher standard). Of the five pitchers who aren’t in the Hall, one of them is Halladay. Three others will share the ballot with him next season. Roger Clemens isn’t in the Hall of Fame for non-statistical reasons. The same might be said of Curt Schilling, who was nine points ahead of Mike Mussina on the ballot in 2016, but has fallen behind as Mussina gets closer to election.

Mike Mussina also recorded a 10-year period close to Halladay’s, though he comes up about four wins shy. The only other player with that kind of peak who’s also currently absent from the Hall of Fame is Kevin Brown, who had a somewhat similar career to Schilling but lacked anywhere near the award recognition. The only players to have started similar 10-year runs this century are Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw.

When we combine Halladay’s peak with his overall value, he matches the Hall’s typical standards for starting pitchers. Below are all of the Hall of Fame pitchers voted on by the writers since 1967, with their career WAR, HOF Points (peak), HOF Rating, as well as awards. If you’re unfamiliar with Hall of Fame rating, you can find the introduction here. It works similarly to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS except that it uses FanGraphs WAR instead of Baseball-Reference’s, and measures peak in a different way, so as to encompass all of a player’s good seasons instead of his best seven years.

Recent Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers
Name WAR HOF Points HOF Rating Rating Rank Cy Young
Randy Johnson 110.6 99 104.8 4 5x
Greg Maddux 116.7 90 103.4 5 4x
Bert Blyleven 102.9 76 89.5 6 No
Nolan Ryan 106.7 68 87.4 7 No
Steve Carlton 96.5 75 85.8 9 4x
Gaylord Perry 100.1 65 82.6 12 2x
Tom Seaver 92.4 69 80.7 13 3x
Pedro Martinez 84.3 72 78.2 14 3x
Bob Gibson 82.3 67 74.7 15 2x, 1968 MVP
Fergie Jenkins 80.1 61 70.6 18 1971
Don Sutton 85.5 42 63.8 23 5 top-5 finishes
John Smoltz 79.6 47 63.3 24 1996
Robin Roberts 74.7 51 62.9 25 5x Top-10 MVP
Phil Niekro 78.1 44 61.1 26 No
Roy Halladay 65.2 54 59.6 28 2x
Warren Spahn 74.8 42 58.4 29 1957, 3x Runner-up
Juan Marichal 61.2 42 51.6 39 No
Sandy Koufax 54.5 46 50.3 42 3x, 1963 MVP
Tom Glavine 66.9 30 48.5 46 2x
Don Drysdale 59.3 37 48.2 47 1962
Jim Palmer 56.6 33 44.8 54 3x
Whitey Ford 54.9 28 41.5 74 1961
Early Wynn 58.6 24 41.3 75 1959
Red Ruffing 56.1 19 37.6 100 Pre-Cy Young
Catfish Hunter 37.2 15 26.1 199 1974
Bob Lemon 32.3 15 23.7 249 3x Top-5 MVP
Starting Pitchers elected by the BBWAA since 1967

Look, there’s Halladay right in between Phil Niekro and Warren Spahn. He’s ahead of Sandy Koufax because his peak was longer. In Sandy Koufax’s best eight years, he was worth 51 WAR. In Roy Halladay’s best eight years, he was worth 52. Here are all of the pitchers with careers most similar in value to Halladay. Highlighted players are Hall of Famers.

Roy Halladay Career Comps
Name WAR HOF Points HOF Rating
Fergie Jenkins 80.1 61 70.6
John Clarkson 69.9 71 70.5
Kevin Brown 76.6 59 67.8
Mike Mussina 82.2 53 67.6
Tim Keefe 69.9 59 64.5
Don Sutton 85.5 42 63.8
John Smoltz 79.6 47 63.3
Robin Roberts 74.7 51 62.9
Phil Niekro 78.1 44 61.1
Pud Galvin 67.3 53 60.2
Roy Halladay 65.2 54 59.6
Warren Spahn 74.8 42 58.4
Tommy John 79.4 34 56.7
Jim Bunning 66.9 46 56.5
Mickey Lolich 64.6 46 55.3
Clayton Kershaw 58.1 52 55.1
Dazzy Vance 61.6 48 54.8
Rick Reuschel 68.2 41 54.6
Jim Kaat 70.9 37 54.0
Hal Newhouser 60.7 47 53.9
Rube Waddell 60.0 47 53.5

That’s 13 out of 20 players in the Hall of Fame. Mussina will soon make 14. Outside of Brown and Lolich, a slightly lesser version of Halladay, other retired players like Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Rick Reuschel based their careers on longevity more than great quality. The only other player on the list is Clayton Kershaw. Ask yourself: would you put Clayton Kershaw in the Hall of Fame if he retired today? If you answer yes, then you should definitely put in a player whose career surpasses his.

While Halladay only got to pitch in six playoff games, he managed to throw a no-hitter in one of them, averaged nearly eight innings per outing, struck out almost a batter an inning, recorded a 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and produced a 2.37 ERA and 2.64 FIP. He didn’t get many opportunities in the playoffs, but he certainly took advantage of them.

The Hall of Fame exists to honor greatness, and few pitchers have been better than Roy Halladay over an extended period of time. Pitchers who have been better than Roy Halladay are almost universally in the Hall. There’s no meaningful distinction between a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a player who makes it further down the line, but in terms of impact and value, there’s not much of a reasonable case for Roy Halladay to remain on the ballot longer than one year.

We hoped you liked reading Roy Halladay Isn’t Just a Borderline Hall of Famer by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Michael Augustine
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Michael Augustine

Great piece but came for that stunning photo.

AlexTheGreat
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AlexTheGreat

it’s purdy