Halladay has become baseball’s best pitcher despite a terrible start to his career

Oct 7, 2010, 9:38 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Dave Cameron

Editor’s note: Dave Cameron of USS Mariner writes a weekly column for the Brock and Salk blog focusing on baseball from a statistical perspective. Mike Salk writes occasionally for USS Mariner as well.

If you weren’t convinced that Roy Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball, I’d imagine last night’s performance sealed the deal.

The great Phillies ace put on a clinic, pitching his way into history with the first postseason no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Unlike most no-hitters, Halladay didn’t need much help from his teammates. The Reds hit one ball hard the entire night – a line drive to right field by Travis Wood, the pitcher. Jayson Werth made a nice sliding catch before it could hit the ground, but it was a play that most competent outfielders (read: not Jonny Gomes) could make. Besides that play, everything was just weak fly balls, easy grounders, or infield pop-ups, and that’s when the Reds hitters actually were able to make contact.


Roy Halladay celebrates after throwing a no-hitter to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 during Game 1 of the NLDS. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Halladay faced 28 batters and threw 25 balls. It was an epic performance from one of the best pitchers of all time. But, Halladay hasn’t always been great, and his career path should be an important reminder for Mariner fans to keep in mind as the team rebuilds with youth.

He arrived in the majors as a 21-year-old in 1998 full of hype. He’d been the Blue Jays first round pick in 1995, and ranked as their top prospect while climbing through the minors. While his two starts in 1998 went well, his full time ascension to the big leagues was not as smooth. In 1999, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, Halladay threw 149 innings, but really struggled with his command. He walked 79 batters and struck out just 82, showing none of the trademark command that would become his hallmark. His ERA was decent enough, but the secondary stats suggested that he needed to make some big strides or he was going to get lit up.

In 2000, he got lit up. In fact, he had the worst season of any pitcher in the history of baseball. In 68 innings, he gave up 87 runs. His command got even worse, but now batters were teeing off on him when he did put it in the strike zone. There was nothing redeemable about his performance that year – he was as bad as anyone had ever been on the mound. He was so bad that the Blue Jays optioned him all the way back to class-A baseball and made him start over, revamping his delivery and working his way back to the big leagues level by level.

His career major league numbers through age 23: 231 innings, 272 hits, 123 walks, 139 strikeouts, 5.77 ERA. Remember how bad Ian Snell was earlier this year? That was Halladay’s career in his first two seasons. He’d shown nothing at the big league level, and fans were ready to write him off as another busted prospect.

You know how this story ends. From 2001 through 2010, Halladay has been among the league’s best pitchers every season. He has a 3.05 ERA over 2,000 innings in the last 10 years, including 56 complete games. He’s established himself as the ace of his era, and he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer when his career is over. It’s a good thing the Blue Jays didn’t give up on him, knowing that his abilities were better than his performance.

When Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Michael Pineda, and others struggle, there is always a segment of people that are quick to proclaim them a bust, and talk about how prospects can’t be trusted. And it’s true that a lot of hyped prospects don’t pan out. But, impatience with young players and the rush to judgment after just a season or two in the big leagues is no way to run a franchise. These guys have talent – it’s the reason why they were hyped in the first place. Don’t let one or two poor years at the start of their career cause you to fall into the trap of writing them off prematurely. Give them a real chance to show you what they can do.

The payoff is often worth the wait.

Brock and Salk podcast

Brock and Salk

Seahawks Broncos Geno Smith Russell Wilson...

Brandon Gustafson

MMQB’s Breer: How Seahawks’ Geno Smith contrasts with Russell Wilson now

Albert Breer of The MMQB joined Seattle Sports' Brock and Salk to share his insight after writing a feature on Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith.

12 hours ago

Seattle Mariners Ty France...

Brent Stecker

What’s wrong with Mariners’ bats? A look at their biggest issues

Seattle Mariners insider Shannon Drayer detailed the most pressing problems for the team's scuffling offense Monday when she joined Seattle Sports' Brock and Salk.

1 day ago

Seattle Kraken Shane Wright...

Brent Stecker

Kraken Takeaways: How is youth coming along? GM Ron Francis’ insight

As a recent expansion team, the Seattle Kraken have a lot of young players in their organization. GM Ron Francis shares insight on those players.

2 days ago

Seattle Mariners Texas Rangers...

Brent Stecker

The Big Mariners Debate: Stacy Rost squares off with Mike Salk

What the Seattle Mariners did in the offseason has so far fallen flat. Seattle Sports' Mike Salk and Stacy Rost got into a spirited debate about it.

2 days ago

Seattle Mariners Scott Servais Jerry Dipoto...

Brent Stecker

Jerry Dipoto previews the Mariners’ 2023 trade deadline path

Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto detailed what he expects as they go about their quest for a bat before the trade deadline.

5 days ago

Mariners Dylan Moore...

Brent Stecker

Dipoto: When Mariners expect Andrés Muñoz, Dylan Moore back

Seattle Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto shared just how soon the team expects Andrés Muñoz and Dylan Moore back with the team.

5 days ago

Halladay has become baseball’s best pitcher despite a terrible start to his career