Blue Jays' Roy Halladay was the most dominant pitcher of his era

Jul 20 2019, 9:42 am

It’s been more than a year-and-a-half since Roy Halladay passed away, but his legacy lives on in forever in Cooperstown.

This weekend, the man affectionately known as “Doc” will officially take his place inside Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. His plaque will be unveiled as a member of the 2019 class of inductees along with Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina.

It’s a bittersweet celebration because Halladay won’t be there to witness the momentous occasion. Yet, his family, friends and adoring fans will watch the former Blue Jay and Philadelphia Phillie take his rightful place in Cooperstown as one of the best pitchers of his era.

A decade of dominance

Halladay never won a World Series ring, but he was an elite pitcher for a decade. From the time he emerged as a full-time starter with the Blue Jays in 2001, to his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, nobody was better at his craft than Halladay.

Over that decade, Halladay won two Cy Young awards, threw a perfect game, tossed a no-hitter in the playoffs, was an eight-time All-Star and finished top 5 in Cy Young voting on seven occasions.

The only faults against Halladay’s Hall of Fame case were his body of work (he finished a full season only eight times) and the lack of hardware in his trophy case. Were it not for a line drive to his shin in August of 2005 (he was well on his way to a second Cy Young that season), he would probably have at least one more piece of hardware with his name on it.

Regardless, he still had those seminal moments as a baseball player. The perfect game against the Marlins in May of 2010 – the no-hitter against the Reds in the playoffs in October of 2010 – the many-a-games he spent carving up American League East opponents.

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The most impressive aspect of Halladay’s career was his uncanny ability to finish games. During 10 years, from 2001 to 2011, he threw 64 complete games. That’s 30 more than the next highest player on the list, Livan Hernandez with 34.

He led the league in complete games on seven occasions. He led the league in innings pitched on four occasions. Take the “win” statistic with a grain of salt, but Halladay led baseball in wins on two occasions.

Halladay never posted the flashiest win-loss totals and he didn’t strike out a tonne of batters, but for every game he took the mound, the bullpen breathed a lot easier. “We had an extra Labatt’s maybe the night before,” said one of Halladay’s former teammates, Jason Frasor. The 12-year veteran said the Blue Jays bullpen looked forward to Halladay start days because the relievers usually got the day off.

“When he passed, I heard stories came out that he would go into the manager’s office and say: ‘Skip me in Baltimore. I want to pitch in Fenway Park. I want to pitch in Yankee Stadium,’” Frasor said about Halladay. “That’s incredible. Guys were dodging those games with a fake hamstring injury or something. He’s asking for them.”

An underrated aspect of Halladay’s lengthy list of his accomplishments? Doc took his game to the next level when facing the toughest teams in the league, like the New York Yankees.

The Bronx Bombers were a juggernaut in the late ’90s and early 2000s, winning three World Series and making 10 postseason appearances in 11 years from 1999 to 2009. Against this domineering Yankees teams, Halladay posted some of his best numbers.

Since 1969, the year that Major League Baseball lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches, nobody had a better earned run average against the Yankees than Halladay. His 2.98 ERA is the best among any starting pitcher who faced the Yankees a minimum of 30 starts.

In 36 career starts against the Yankees, Halladay posted an 18-7 record with 2.98 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 38 games. Those numbers are akin to a Cy Young season and Halladay owned those numbers against one of the best franchises over the last quarter-century.

Doc not only had a tendency to go the distance, but he worked with surgical-like precision. Five of his 67 career complete games finished in less than two hours.

After he adjusted his arsenal to focus on pitches that cut off the plate and dove into the ground, Halladay was revolutionary in the way he attacked hitters. During MLB Network’s Hall of Fame debate panel, Tom Verducci made an extremely convincing case for Halladay.

“He was the best pitcher in baseball for a 10-year period. We may not see another starting pitcher who finishes the games like Roy Halladay did,” said Verducci.

“The way he pitched also changed the game. When you think about his ability to sink and cut the baseball on both sides of the plate with velocity … he was really the first of his breed who cut up both sides of the plate with spin and velocity.”

Speaking of the cutter, it was a chance conversation at the 2008 All-Star Game which helped Halladay perfect the pitch. He spoke with the Jedi master of the cutter – Mariano Rivera – on how to grip the ball. Doc took the advice to heart and his cutter usage shot up to 41.5 percent the following year.

Over the next three seasons, Halladay posted some of the best numbers of his career as he leaned on the pitch close to 40 percent of the time. Halladay’s late-career renaissance came on the back of the cutter. In a way, he has Rivera — a fellow first-ballot Hall of Famer — to thank.

Doc moves to Philadelphia

Oddly enough, Doc’s career didn’t come into focus south of the border until the Blue Jays traded him to the Phillies in December of 2009. For two consecutive years, Halladay dominated the National League and opened a lot of eyes to his true talent.

With the benefit of playing for a big market team in Philadelphia, Halladay finally became a household name in the United States. For 10 years prior, he was Canada’s best-kept secret. Under the guise of an underperforming Blue Jays team, Halladay was one of the best pitchers in the game that very few knew about.

Veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy said it best: “Roy Halladay was your favourite player’s favourite player”. Pitchers like McCarthy idolized Doc for his tireless work ethic. They relished watching Halladay work his magic every five days, just as fans did.

One of the best pitchers of this generation — Clayton Kershaw — has a framed Roy Halladay jersey displayed proudly in his home.

You can’t tell the story of the best pitchers in baseball in the early 2000s without acknowledging Halladay’s accomplishments. As one of the most dominant starters of his generation, Halladay took the torch from Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson in the ’90s and paved the way for the aces of today like Kershaw and Justin Verlander.

Two Cy Young awards – a perfect game and a no-hitter – eight All-Star game appearances – and a career that spanned 16 years. Now, Halladay can add “Hall of Famer” to his impressive resume.

Ian HunterIan Hunter

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