JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Roy Halladay

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

They don’t make ’em like Roy Halladay anymore. An efficient sinkerballer at the crossroads of changing patterns of usage, his statistics, compiled in a career that ran from 1998 to 2013, look like numbers from another planet, or at least a bygone era, when viewed from today’s vantage. Consider, for example, that in an age of pitch counts, times through the order concerns, and increasingly specialized bullpens, all major league starters combined for 42 complete games in 2018, and 59 in 2017. Halladay — “Doc,” after Old West gambler, gunfighter and dentist Doc Holliday, lest the pitcher’s link to a dusty past escape anyone — had 67 for his career, 13 more than the next-highest total in that 16-year span, by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (who completed an even 100 in a career that stretched from 1988-2009), and 29 more than the active leader, CC Sabathia. Halladay needed fewer than 100 pitches in 14 of those compete games, five of which were completed in under two hours. The last time any pitcher threw such a game was in 2010.

Halladay’s other numbers, which testify to his elite run prevention and value, are impressive as well, outdoing just about every active pitcher except Clayton Kershaw. Alas, our distance from those numbers is intensified by tragedy, because his whole life is now past tense. Just over a year ago, on November 7, 2017, Halladay crashed his Icon A5 light sport airplane into the Gulf of Mexico while flying solo. The toxicology report, published two months later, found that he was impaired by high concentrations of the morphine, opiates, and Ambien in his system. All of that seems foreign as well, given the model of control he appeared to be during his heyday.

It wasn’t always that way, though. The extraordinarily economical style that enabled Halladay to go the distance so frequently, to throw as many as 266 innings in a season, and to throw at least 220 in a season eight times — three more than any other pitcher in this millennium — owed to an exceptionally humiliating season. In 2000, five years removed from being a first-round draft pick, the 23-year-old righty was pummeled for a 10.64 ERA in 67.2 major league innings, still the worst mark for any pitcher with at least 50 innings in a season. He was demoted all the way to A-ball the next season, where, as Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci documented, minor league pitching coach Mel Queen spurred him to change from an over-the-top delivery that was so methodical Queen nicknamed him “Iron Mike,” in reference to the popular brand of pitching machines.

Queen instructed Halladay to switch to a three-quarters delivery, to speed it the hell up, and to shift his repertoire from a four-seam fastball/curve combination to a sinker/cutter combo, “two pitches that appeared the same to the hitter, except one would break late to the left and one to the right,” explained Verducci. The result: fewer deep counts and strikeouts, and one of the game’s highest groundball rates. Halladay’s improved command and late-career addition of a split-fingered fastball pushed his strikeout rates higher; four of his five seasons with at least 200 strikeouts came from 2008 onward, in seasons where he averaged 242 innings.

While those heavy innings totals — particularly the 1,007.1 he threw between the regular season and postseason from 2008-2011 — may have hastened Halladay’s departure from the majors at age 36, his body of work is exceptional. Though he never led his league in ERA, he finished second three times and placed in the top five seven times — remarkable, given that he only qualified for the title eight times! He led his league in WAR four times, and had four other top-five finishes, including one in a year that he threw just 141.2 innings due to a broken fibula. He made eight All-Star teams, and won Cy Young awards with the Blue Jays in 2003 and the Phillies in 2010, making him just the fifth pitcher to claim the award in both leagues. In that magical 2010 season, he not only threw a regular season perfect game (against the Marlins on May 29), but became just the second pitcher to throw a postseason no-hitter, doing so on on October 6, in the Division Series opener against the Reds.

Though the brevity of Halladay’s career left his traditional statistical totals rather short, his advanced stats frame a solid Hall of Fame case, particularly as the era of the workhorse starter fades, and the shape of his career stands in marked contrast to the other pitchers on the 2019 ballot. He may not have been viewed as an automatic, first-ballot choice before his early demise, but if he’s elected this year, he wouldn’t be the first candidate to gain baseball immortality in short order after the hard fact of human mortality was underscored.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Roy Halladay
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Roy Halladay 64.3 50.6 57.5
Avg. HOF SP 73.9 50.3 62.1
203-105 2,117 3.38 131
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Born on May 14, 1977 in Denver, Colorado, Harry LeRoy Halladay III was groomed to be a pitcher by his father, Roy Jr., a similarly strapping commercial pilot. He grew up in the nearby suburbs of Denver, first Aurora and then Arvada, in houses with basements big enough to allow him to throw baseballs indoors, into mattresses hung on the walls, during the snowy winter months. Roy Jr. even made sure that their Arvada home had a basement that could accommodate a regulation 60’6″ distance, and soon a pitching machine and a tire to throw through. Roy III became known for his combination of velocity, command, dominance, and “the meticulous quietness with which he went about his game,” as childhood friend Robert Sanchez remembered in 2017. “Roy was a third-grader who could play like a middle-schooler, but he never lorded his gifts over anyone. He and his father knew he was special in ways no one else would become, but they didn’t say it.”

Halladay’s dominance continued through high school, when he perfected a knuckle curve to go along with a 93-94 mph fastball. At Arvada West, where he also played basketball and ran cross-country, he was a three-time first team All-Conference and All-State selection, and two-time league and state MVP. He led his team to the Class 6A state championship in 1994, and never lost a game in the state of Colorado. He eschewed the showcase circuit of club ball and travel ball, choosing instead to work with his high school coaching staff, his father (who was still catching him in the basement during his prep years), and a man named Robert “Bus” Campbell, a local legend who coached or scouted 115 pitchers who reached the majors, including Hall of Famer Rich Gossage and All-Stars Jay Howell, Mark Langston, Brad Lidge, and Jamie Moyer.

Campbell was 69 years old and scouting for the Blue Jays when he began mentoring the 13-year-old Halladay, so it wasn’t surprising that the team chose him with the 17th pick of the 1995 draft (nine picks after Todd Helton, who himself would leave his mark on Colorado baseball and debut on the 2019 ballot). Bypassing a scholarship to the University of Arizona, he signed for a $895,000 bonus and began his professional career by striking out 48 in 50.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League.

After a big age-19 season at High-A Dunedin in 1996 (15-7, 2.73 ERA, 6.0 K/9), Halladay was ranked 23rd on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list in the spring of 1997. He scuffled at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Syracuse that year, but after a stronger showing at the latter stop in 1998, the 21-year-old righty made his major league debut on September 20 of that year, throwing five innings of two-run ball with five strikeouts against the Devil Rays. A week later, he no-hit the Tigers for 8.2 innings before Bobby Higginson’s pinch-homer spoiled the party, though he hung on for a 2-1 win.

After placing 12th on Baseball America’s list in the spring of 1999, Halladay spent the entire season in the majors, making 18 starts and 18 relief appearances. His 3.92 ERA (125 ERA+) in 149.1 innings earned him a three-year, $3.7 million extension, but his 5.36 FIP and 82-to-79 strikeout-to-walk ratio were ominous portents of things to come. In 2000, the AL’s highest-scoring season since 1936 (5.30 runs per game), Halladay struck out 44 and walked 42 in 67.2 innings while being torched for a record-setting 10.64 ERA. He couldn’t straighten out in two stints at Syracuse, and after scuffling in the spring of 2001, was sent back to Dunedin. Far from the spotlight, Queen helped Halladay adjust his mechanics to get away from a fastball that was 97 mph but “straight as a string,” and provided a tough-love challenge to the pitcher’s mental approach that he termed “vigorous leveling.” A book purchased by wife Brandy Halladay, The Mental ABC’s of Pitching by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman — whom Halladay would meet in 2002 — keyed further changes in his mental approach. As Brandy told Verducci in 2010:

“[Dorfman] really taught Roy to focus on one thing at a time. When he gave up a hit, he learned to think about the next hitter. He helped him deal with those mental stumbling blocks every person has to deal with. The book and [Dorfman] helped his pitching career, our marriage, the way we looked at life in general…. It absolutely saved his career.”

After stops at the Blue Jays’ top three minor league affiliates, Halladay returned to the majors. Though cuffed for six runs by the Red Sox in a first-inning relief appearance on July 2, he struck out 10 Expos without a walk in his first start five days later, and finished the year with a 3.16 ERA (and 2.34 FIP) in 105.1 innings. That set the stage for a breakout season, during which Halladay went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA (157 ERA+) and AL bests in innings (239.1), home run rate (0.4 per nine) and WAR (7.3). He made his first All-Star team but was ignored in the Cy Young voting; Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA, 7.2 WAR) won.

Halladay avoided the mistake of not winning 20 games the next year, going 22-7 with a 3.25 ERA (145 ERA+). He cut his walk rate in half, to a microscopic 1.1 per nine while leading the league in starts (36), innings (266), complete games (nine), K/BB ratio (6.38) and WAR (8.2) and striking out 204 batters. Again an All-Star, he took home the AL Cy Young, receiving 26 out of 28 first-place votes.

Halladay signed a four-year, $42 million extension in January 2004, but a shoulder strain and a comebacker-induced fractured left fibula limited him to 40 starts and 274.2 innings over the next two seasons, cutting into his effectiveness in the former, though he did make the AL All-Star team and rack up 5.5 WAR (in just 141.2 innings) in the latter, good for third in the league and the seventh-best total of his career (thus part of his peak score). Returning to a full workload in 2006, he remained healthy over the remainder of his run in Toronto, aside from brief stints on the disabled list for an appendectomy (2007) and a groin strain (2009).

As Verducci reported, in 2007 Halladay improved his command to the point that he could throw his signature cutter and sinker to both sides of the plate. “You see two different pitches coming at you the same speed from the same release point,” the Orioles’ Brian Roberts told Verducci, “but you don’t know which way it’s going to break. Think how hard that is to hit.”

Over the 2006-2009 span, Halladay averaged 32 starts, 233 innings, seven complete games, a 3.11 ERA (142 ERA+) and 5.5 WAR. He won 20 games in 2008, led the league in innings that same year (246), and in complete games three times (twice with nine). He made three All-Star teams, starting for the AL in 2009; placed among the league’s top five in WAR three times in that span, with a high of 6.9 (second) in 2004; and placed among the top five in Cy Young voting all four years, including second behind future teammate Cliff Lee in 2008.

Halladay had signed a three-year, $40 million extension in January 2006, covering the 2008-2010 seasons. But for all of his strong work, the Blue Jays remained in a competitive rut, unable to overtake the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention the upstart Rays; they hadn’t finished fewer than 10 games out of first place since 2000, and hadn’t returned to the postseason since winning their second straight championship in 1993. In what proved to be his final season, general manager J.P. Ricciardi explored trading Halladay at the July 31 deadline in 2009. Talks with the defending champion Phillies, reportedly centered around pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ and outfielder Domonic Brown, did not come to fruition, and Philadelphia instead traded for Lee, who helped them return to the World Series (they lost to the Yankees).

Incoming Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos revived the talks with the Phillies, and on December 16, 2009, traded Halladay for Drabek and two other prospects, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor. As part of the deal, Halladay agreed to a three-year, $60 million extension covering 2011-2013. That same day, the Phillies traded Lee to the Mariners for three prospects in a separate deal.

After escaping the AL East and moving to the non-DH league, the 33-year-old Halladay turned in the best season of his career, going 21-10 with career bests in ERA (2.44, third in the NL), ERA+ (167), strikeouts (219) and WAR (8.6), that last figure led the league as did his win total, his 250.2 innings, his nine complete games, four shutouts, 1.1 walks per nine, and 7.3 K/BB ratio. On May 29, 2010, he retired all 27 Marlins he faced, striking out 11 and completing the 20th perfect game in major league history.

After helping the Phillies win 97 games and their fourth straight NL East title, Halladay made history in his first taste of postseason action. Facing the Reds in the Division Series opener, he yielded only a fifth-inning walk to Jay Bruce and completed just the second no-hitter in postseason history, after Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game.

The Phillies’ sweep of the Reds meant Halladay didn’t start again for 10 days. When he did, in the NLCS opener against the Giants, he was touched for a pair of solo homers by Cody Ross as well as two additional runs in a 4-3 loss. He pitched six solid innings of two-run ball at AT&T Park in Game 5, sending the series back to Philadelphia, but the Giants advanced with a Game 6 win. Halladay’s consolation prize was a unanimous Cy Young win that placed him in the company of Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens as pitchers to win the award in both leagues (Max Scherzer has since joined the club).

With Halladay, homegrown Cole Hamels and mid-2010 acquisition Roy Oswalt already in the fold, the Phillies responded to their early exit by re-acquiring Lee via a five-year, $120 million deal, producing a rotation for the ages. Indeed, despite the offensive nucleus of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley in decline, the team won a franchise-record 102 games and a fifth consecutive division title in 2011. Halladay set new career bests with 8.8 WAR (the NL high), a 2.35 ERA (second, but with a league-best 163 ERA+), and 220 strikeouts (third). With a 19-6 record, he could have easily won a third Cy Young, but Kershaw’s 21-5 mark with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts captured the voters’ attention, and Halladay had to settle for second place.

He made two strong starts in the Division Series against the Cardinals, allowing three runs in eight innings in their Game 1 victory and then just one run in eight innings in Game 5. Alas, that run — produced by back-to-back extra-base hits to start the first inning — proved to be the game’s only score. The Phillies were eliminated on Chris Carpenter’s three-hit shutout.

Aside from a 1.95 ERA in five April starts in 2012, it was downhill for Doc thereafter. Roughed up for a 6.11 ERA in May as his velocity diminished, he spent seven weeks on the disabled list with a strained latissimus dorsi and only briefly returned to form. Over his final eight starts, he was lit up for a 6.20 ERA and an uncharacteristic 1.4 homers per nine. He was even worse in 2013, with four disaster starts (more runs than innings) out of his first seven, though his eight-inning, one-run performance against the Marlins on April 14 gave him career win number 200. Diagnosed with a bone spur in his shoulder as well as a partially torn rotator cuff and fraying in his labrum, he underwent surgery on May 16. He returned in late August, a remarkably quick turnaround, and had spots of superficial success, but left his final start after just three batters, unable to push his fastball past 83 mph.

In December 2013, Halladay signed a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and announced his retirement, citing major back issues including two pars fractures, an eroded lumbar disc, and pinched nerves. Changes in mechanics had transferred the stress to his shoulder, he could no longer pitch at the level to which he was accustomed, and he wanted to avoid fusion surgery — all understandable choices, particularly for a father of two.

Halladay had largely receded from view when the jarring news of his death in a plane crash broke. As testimonials to his playing career, his tireless work ethic and hischaracter poured in from around the industry, so did calls for him to appear on the 2018 ballot. A Hall of Fame and BBWAA rule enacted after the special election of the late Roberto Clemente in 1973 allows a deceased candidate to bypass the five-year post-retirement waiting period, but he can’t appear on a ballot until at least six months after his death. Hence, Halladay’s eligibility is on the same schedule it would have been otherwise.

If Halladay were to be elected in amid the aftermath of his passing, he wouldn’t be the first player to do so. As I noted in the introduction to this series, Roger Bresnahan and Jimmy Collins (both elected in 1945), Herb Pennock (1948), Three-Finger Brown (1949), Harry Heilmann (1952) and Ron Santo (2012) were all elected shortly after their respective demises.

Going strictly by his traditional stats, Halladay does not appear to be a particularly strong choice for the Hall. While there are 12 starters enshrined who pitched fewer than 3,000 innings (one of whom, Monte Ward, spent a good chunk of his career at shortstop), Pedro Martinez is the only one who’s been elected since Sandy Koufax in 1972. Save for a one-game cameo by Dizzy Dean, only two others, Bob Lemon and Hal Newhouser, even pitched after World War II, and both were done by the late 1950s. As a three-time Cy Young winner and a member of the 3,000 strikeout club, Martinez faced little resistance from voters, receiving 91.1% in 2015. He joined fellow 2015 honoree John Smoltz — also a member of the 3,000 strikeout club — as just the second and third starters elected with fewer than 300 wins since 1992.

Halladay finished well short of both 300 wins (203) and 3,000 strikeouts (2,117), with “only” two Cy Youngs. Where seven of the 10 pitchers with three Cys have been elected (all but Roger Clemens and the still-active Kershaw and Scherzer), only three of the nine two-timers have been elected, namely Bob Gibson, Tom Glavine, and Gaylord Perry. Of the rest, Corey Kluber and Tim Lincecum are still active, but none of the other three besides Halladay — Denny McLain, Bret Saberhagen, and Johan Santana — ever received even 5% of the vote. Santana went one-and-done just last year, though with just 139 wins and 1,988 strikeouts in 2,025.2 innings, it’s understandable why voters didn’t give him the time of day, particularly on a crowded ballot.

Halladay has better career numbers than Santana, and in some regards, better numbers than the other starters on the ballot who will draw consideration. While his win and strikeout totals can’t match those of Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, or Curt Schilling, his run prevention was superior to all of those besides Clemens. He never won a season ERA title, but his career 3.38 mark — even with his brutal 2000 season and a 5.73 mark after his 2012 shoulder strain — is 10th among pitchers with at least 2,500 innings since 1980. Five of the nine ahead of him are in Cooperstown, led by Martinez at 2.93. Adjusting for park and league scoring levels, his 131 ERA+ at those same cutoffs is fifth, behind Martinez (154), Clemens (143), Johnson (135), and Greg Maddux (132), all enshrined save for the Rocket. He’s ahead of Schilling (127), Mussina (123), and Pettitte (117), not to mention Smoltz (125) and Glavine (118), as well as Justin Verlander (126), the active leader. Kershaw (159) has only 2,096.1 innings, well short of this particular cutoff.

Halladay’s command and control were part of that. Even despite his early struggles, his career 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is in a virtual tie with Mussina for fifth since 1893, when the pitching distance was set at 60’6″. Only Schilling (4.38), Martinez (4.15), Greinke (3.82), and Saberhagen (3.64) were better in that regard. Three times, he finished with fewer walks than games started, his stated goal for any season. Seven times he walked fewer than 2.0 batters per nine while qualifying for the ERA title.

Despite his shortages of innings and strikeouts, Halladay stands tall relative to his peers with regards to the advanced stats. His score of 127 on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor, a metric that gives credit for awards, league leads, milestones and postseason performance — things that historically have tended to appeal to Hall voters — is 127, where 100 is a likely Hall of Famer and 130 is “a virtual cinch.” More than five years removed from his final pitch, his 65.2 WAR from 2001 onward is the highest total of the millennium, though Verlander (63.8), Sabathia (62.2), and Zack Greinke (61.5) have closed the gap. His 62.6 WAR over the course of his brilliant 2002-2011 stretch — 6.3 WAR per year, even given his injury-shortened 2004 and -05 — is 12.2 more than the second-ranked Santana. His overall total of 64.3 WAR is about nine wins shy of the Hall standard for starters (73.4), but he still outranks 29 of the 63 enshrined, including 300-game winner Early Wynn, 1960s star Juan Marichal, Yankees dynasty staple Whitey Ford, and strikeout whizzes Dazzy Vance and Jim Bunning. More tellingly, his total is ninth among pitchers who debuted since 1973 — 25 years before he did — behind Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez, Mussina, Schilling, Smoltz, and Kevin Brown, all of whom beat him to the majors by at least six years and, with the exception of Martinez, threw at least 500 more innings.

Via his seven-year peak score, Halladay’s 50.6 WAR surpasses that of the average Hall starter (50.3) and ranks 40th all time, ahead of 33 of the 63 enshrined; just four above him (Johnson, Maddux, Martinez and Clemens) debuted since 1973. Of those who debuted after, only Kershaw (49.6), Greinke (47.3), Scherzer (47.2), Verlander (46.2), and Santana (45.0) are with seven wins — one per year — of that peak score.

Halladay’s 57.6 JAWS isn’t as high as Schilling’s (64.1, 27th all-time) or Mussina’s (63.8, 29th), but it’s still eighth among that post-1973 set. He’s 43rd all-time, 4.3 points below the Hall standard but ahead of 32 enshrinees, with a career/peak/JAWS line that closely resembles Marichal (63.0/51.9/57.5), who needed 757.2 additional innings to get there. Among active pitchers, Kershaw (57.1), Greinke (56.5), and Verlander (54.8) could overtake Halladay as soon as next year, but having spent the past 12 months scrutinizing all of their cases, they appear to be on their way to Cooperstown as well.

While that last trio of pitchers isn’t done, there are no givens when it comes to shoulders, elbows, and backs. What Halladay accomplished before his body told him it was time to quit pitching was remarkable, and unique for his time. Mussina and Schiling aside, Hall of Fame voters aren’t going to see his like for awhile. He belongs in the pantheon of all-time greats, and hopefully, the BBWAA electorate recognizes that with the same efficiency that was the hallmark of Halladay’s career.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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5 years ago

Now this is a guy that always seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. Its quite a contrast to Mussina’s candidacy because Halladay was always one of the players that scared opponents and emboldened any team for which he played. Mussina was a nice player to have on the team whereas Halladay was the difference-maker.

If anything his stats don’t do him justice.

John Autin
5 years ago
Reply to  stan

Mussina was also a difference-maker. Your characterization is not supported by the actual difference in their performances.

Halladay had a higher peak. But if I’m signing up one of these two careers for my team, I’m damned if I know which to take — a GREAT 10-year span with roughly no total value outside it (Halladay), or an outstanding 18-year span with a relatively low peak but still plenty of CYA-contending seasons.