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Prospect Retro Redux: Roy Halladay

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Prospect Retro: Roy Halladay

As you probably know, Phillies ace Roy Halladay threw a perfect game last night, the 20th in major league history, knocking out the Marlins 1-0. This is the second perfect game in 2010, Dallas Braden blanking the Rays earlier this month.The only other season in major league history with two perfect contests was 1880, when Monte Ward of Providence and Lee Richmond of Worcester both pulled it off.

To honor Halladay's achievement, let's take a look at his development as a prospect and pitcher. His path to success was not a linear one.

I wrote a Prospect Retro for Halladay back in November of 2005. Here is the text of that, followed by a look at his last five seasons.

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 at that point. 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. Still, it was a solid overall season, and 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. 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 considerably, 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 scouting reports and his statistics.

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 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 and 2003, injury problems in '04 and '05, though effective when healthy.

Halladay's track record as a prospect was a mixed bag, noted by good scouting reports but shaky component ratios. I wasn't surprised at all that he collapsed in 2000. But I was surprised how quickly he rebuilt his career in 2001.

The question now is, how durable can Halladay be? The shoulder problem in '04 is more worrisome than the flukey broken leg in '05, but any time shoulder stuff crops up, I worry.

Similar Pitchers to Roy Halladay through 2005

Pat Hentgen
Jack McDowell
Kevin Appier
Alex Fernandez
Steve Busby
Pat Malone

As you can see, my main concern was that Halladay would have further injury problems, as the pitchers on his old post-2005 comparable list did.

That concern turned out to be misplaced: Halladay has averaged 32 starts and 233 innings per season since 2005, with a 105-36 record. His ERA+ marks: 143, 121, 152, 156, and 211 this year so far. He's averaged 172 strikeouts per season, including over 200 in both '08 and '09, and on pace for that again this year. He's a genuine superstar, and the health worries that dogged him in '04 and '05 seem a thing of the past.

How does Halladay rank historically now? His overall career record of 155-79, .662, with a 135 ERA+ in 2133 innings is obviously very strong.  He is definitely entering the Hall of Fame conversation. His Bill James "Black Ink" statistic rating is now 41; an average Hall of Famer is 40. His Hall of Fame Monitor rating is 88; a rating of 100 means you are a likely Hall of Famer. His Hall of Fame Standards rating is 36; an average HoFer rates at 50. If his career ended today, he would be on the margins with just his current numbers. But if he continues to pitch well for another four or five years, he'll definitely be in the Hall categor.

Comparable Pitchers through age 32:

Sim Scores: Tim Hudson, Mike Mussina, Bret Saberhagen, Dizzy  Dean, Don Newcombe, John Candelaria, Andy Pettitte, Jim Bunning, Jimmy Key, and Dennis Leonard.

PECOTA Comps: Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Steve Rogers, Jimmy Key, Mark Langston, Bruce Hurst, Steve Carlton, Mike Boddicker, and Tom Glavine. Tom Seaver is 11th.

All of these pitchers were terrific in their primes. Dean, Bunning, Seaver, and Carlton are Hall of Famers. Glavine and Maddux will get in the Hall. Brown has a borderline case. Do you realize that Mike Mussina won 270 games and was a much better pitcher than many guys who are in the Hall? He has a strong case if people actually pay attention to what he did. Saberhagen had Hall of Fame talent but burned out too quickly to build up the necessary counting stats. Every pitcher on this list had moments of dominance, even Mike Boddicker and Bruce Hurst.

In short, of 20 pitchers identified as similar to Roy Halladay, there are six definite Hall of Famers (Dean, Bunning, Seaver, Carlton, Glavine, Maddux), one guy who will have a good case but might not get in right away (Mussina), two other marginal Hall guys (Brown and Pettitte), and 11 other pitchers who were all excellent at times but didn't have quite enough durability or consistency to get in.

If Halladay remains in good health over the next five years, more and more of his comparable players will be in the elite category, with the weaker comps dropping off. Despite his early career loss of confidence and uneven development path, he's developed into one of the best pitchers of his generation.