Prospect Retrospective: Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay - USA TODAY Sports

Veteran major league starting pitcher Roy Halladay will retire today. Here's a look at the career of one of the top pitchers of this generation.

According to multiple media reports, veteran Major League starting pitcher Roy Halladay will sign a one-day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays today, then announce his retirement in a Blue Jays uniform. Here's a look at the career of the 203-game winner, who did not have a smooth development path as a young pitcher.

Roy Halladay was drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays in 1995, out of high school in Arvada, Colorado. The 17th overall pick, he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League and pitched well, going 3-5 in ten games but posting a solid 3.40 ERA and a 48/16 K/BB in 50 innings. I didn't give letter grades to new draft picks back then, but nowadays I'd probably have given him a Grade B based on his draft status and strong debut. Halladay's fastball was just average at that point, but he had an excellent breaking ball, and scouts felt his velocity would pick up after he matured physically.

Moved aggressively to the Florida State League in 1996, Halladay went 15-7, 2.73 in 27 starts. He posted a 109/46 K/BB ratio in 165 innings. His command was very impressive, but his K/IP was below average. As scouts expected, his velocity increased, up to 95 MPH at times. Oddly, this didn't improve his strikeout rate, likely due to inconsistent secondary pitches. Still, it was a solid overall season, especially given his age in High-A. Also note his very large (by current standards) workload. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1997 book, rating him as the number 31 prospect in the game.

Halladay split 1997 between Double-A Knoxville and Triple-A Syracuse, going 9-13 with a combined 4.77 ERA. His K/BB was unimpressive at 94/64 in 162 innings. His numbers were all mediocre or worse, and it looked to me like he was being mishandled very badly by the Jays. Reports indicated that his secondary pitches were very inconsistent and he looked like he was being rushed. I reduced him to Grade B in the 1998 book, still a solid rating, but was concerned that he was heading for trouble because of the way they were pushing him too quickly. "I'm not sure the Blue Jays will give him enough time to ripen. . .he is a candidate for Matt Drews Disease," I wrote, referencing the failed Yankees prospect who fell apart after being rushed to Triple-A too quickly.

The Blue Jays gave Halladay 21 starts in for Triple-A Syracuse in 1998. He improved, going 9-5, 3.79, although his K/BB remained poor at 71/53 in 116 innings. His scouting reports were positive: 95 MPH fastball, the knuckle-curve, an improving slider. He received a September cup-of-coffee and threw a one-hitter in his second major league start. I moved him back up to Grade B+, but noted that his component ratios remained problematic and warned that immediate major league success was not a sure bet. At this point, there was still a disconnect between Halladay's projection and his performance.

The Jays used Halladay as a swingman in 1999, giving him 18 major league starts but also 18 relief appearances. He pitched well overall, going 8-7, 3.92, but his K/BB was not good at all, 82/79 in 149 innings. This was a warning sign for 2000, and indeed, he completely collapsed, posting a horrid 10.64 ERA in 68 innings for the Blue Jays, and pitching quite poorly even after being demoted to the minors (5.50, 38/21 K/BB in 74 innings for Syracuse). At this point, he looked very much like a young pitcher potentially ruined by being promoted too quickly.

Realizing that Halladay was at a critical juncture, the Blue Jays completely rebuilt his mechanics early in 2001. By the end of the season, he was pitching well at the major league level, with a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts and a 96/25 K/BB in 105 innings. This was the best K/BB ratio of his career to that point, reflecting much better command. Scouts also said that Halladay was much more confident on the mound. During his previous struggles, he appeared overly tentative and lacked confidence in his stuff. By the end of '01, he looked like a completely different pitcher, sabermetrically and traditionally.

You know the rest of the story: brilliant pitching in 2002 (7.3 fWAR) and 2003 (7.4 fWAR), injury problems in '04 and '05, though effective when healthy, then a six-year run of excellent success beginning in 2006.

Overall, Halladay went 203-105 with a 3.38 ERA, 131 ERA+, 3.39 FIP, with a 2117/592 K/BB ratio in 2749 innings, allowing 2646 hits. Keep in mind that offense was at record levels in MLB through much of his career. He won 20 games three times, led the league in innings pitched four times, in complete games seven times, in shutouts four times. He won two Cy Young Awards and was an eight-time All Star. He threw a perfect game in 2010 and a second no-hitter in the playoffs that year. He finished with a career fWAR of 67.6.

Halladay's track record as a prospect was a mixed bag, noted by good scouting reports but shaky component ratios and command problems. I wasn't surprised at all that he collapsed in 2000. But I was surprised how quickly he rebuilt his career in 2001. Despite shoulder problems in '04 and a broken leg in '05, he was also quite durable until finally beginning to fizzle at age 35.

Historically speaking, Halladay's Sim Score comp list stands as follows:

Tim Hudson
Mike Mussina
Dwight Gooden
Kevin Brown
Ron Guidry
Dazzy Vance
David Cone
Bret Saberhagen
Pedro Martinez

Of this group, only Vance is a Hall of Famer to this point, although Pedro and Mussina will get there and Brown has a good case.

Among pitchers with a similar number of innings pitched, Halladay's 67.7 fWAR in 2749 innings puts him in the neighborhood with Vance (63.6 in 2967), Hal Newhouser (63 in 2993), Rube Waddell (60.6 in 2961), and Saberhagen (58.3 in 2563).

Of the Top 50 pitchers in baseball history according to fWAR, Halladay ranks at #34, but with the fewest number of innings pitched. Pedro Martinez, with 86.8 fWAr (16th overall) in 2827 innings, Hall of Famer Vance, and Hall of Famer Newhouser are the only Top 50 pitchers with fewer than 3,000 innings pitched.

Elite company, indeed.

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