Roy Halladay retired as a Blue Jay on Monday -- thirteen years, 2,700-plus innings and two Cy Young Awards after his career appeared to be over. In 2000, a 23-year-old Halladay was clubbed for the highest single-season ERA ever (10.64) for a pitcher tossing at least 65 innings. His ERA was the better part of a run higher than Steve Blass (9.85 ERA in 1973) -- and they named a disease after that guy. But rather than becoming the latest skeleton in the ever-expanding graveyard of failed top pitching prospects, Halladay re-emerged as one of the greatest hurlers of his generation.
His 131 ERA+ ranks 14th all-time among pitchers throwing at least 2,500 career frames, between Greg Maddux and Hal Newhouser. With 65.6 Wins Above Replacement, Doc places 33rd and keeps company with the likes of Luis Tiant and Bob Feller. At his peak, Halladay was a 220-plus inning a year horse who surrendered homers and handed out walks as if doing so would get him shipped back to Triple-A Syracuse, like he was during that apocalyptic 2000 season.
Unfortunately, the 36-year-old's ailing back and shoulder will prevent him from forging yet another comeback. But, instead of lamenting Halladay's premature retirement, let's celebrate the blend of efficiency, command and craft that made him so difficult to square up. Four of Doc's peak seasons (2008-11) came during the Pitch F/X era. Here's a closer look at how Halladay carved up hitters over that time frame, potentially earning himself a bust in Cooperstown.
He jumped ahead of hitters from the get-go
Halladay tossed a first pitch strike about 66 percent of the time from 2008-11, blowing away the 59 percent MLB average for starters and trailing only three deans of pitching efficiency: Mike Mussina, Maddux (still sharp during their final seasons in '08) and Cliff Lee. By putting hitters at a disadvantage from the moment they stepped into the box, Halladay compiled a 6.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio over that four-year stretch.
He expanded batters' zones
Doc induced hitters to chase his stuff off the plate at the highest clip (33.6 percent of the time) among all National League starters. And, in typical Halladay fashion, he didn't accomplish that with just one offering. Rather, he used everything in his kitchen sink repertoire to bait opposing batters:
He had surgical command
Halladay threw lots of strikes, but they were also quality strikes. From '08 to '11, MLB starters tossed about 24 percent of their pitches to the horizontal middle of the strike zone. Pitches catching that much of the plate get hammered (a .500 opposing slugging percentage from 2008-11). Halladay avoided hitters' hot spots, however, throwing just 20.8 percent of his pitches to the middle of the zone.
In fact, no starter threw more pitches "on the black" during that period. A pitch is considered "on the black" if the center of the ball is at least 8.5 inches away from the middle of the plate, but part of the ball is still in the strike zone. Hitters do far less damage against such well-located pitches, slugging a mere .369 overall and .338 versus Halladay.
Now that Halladay is done, the conversation inevitably turns toward his Hall of Fame candidacy. In terms of WAR, he's in the same neighborhood as the average Cooperstown inductee (69) and ranks ahead of luminaries like Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax, himself a star who shone brilliantly for a shorter period of time. Halladay might not have enjoyed 20-plus years in the majors, but he was truly elite during a more condensed career. If it worked for Koufax, it should work for Doc, too.