Roy Halladay wasn't actually that much better than the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright this season, but the slight advantage he held was obvious enough that his selection as the 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner was the most obvious result among the eight Baseball Writers Association of American awards being handed out this week and next. Indeed, Halladay was listed first on all 32 of the writers' ballots, the 13th time that a National Leaguer has won the award unanimously in the Cy Young's 55-year history. Halladay is now in some elite company with this, his second Cy Young award. Not only does he join Sandy Koufax as the only men ever to pitch a perfect game and win a Cy Young in the same season (Koufax did it in 1965), but, having previously won the award in the American League with the Blue Jays in 2003, he becomes just the fifth pitcher ever to win the award in both leagues. The four men who did it before him were Gaylord Perry, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens.
Halladay is starting to show up on a lot of those sorts of lists, which makes one wonder whether or not what we're witnessing here is a late-bloomer assembling a Hall of Fame career. In terms of raw numbers, the 33-year-old Halladay won 21 games this season, giving him 169 on his career, which likely puts him two years away from 200, a total only eight Hall of Fame starting pitchers from the modern era (Koufax being one of them) failed to reach. That means Halladay could reach 200 wins by the age of 35, making 300 a longshot, but not an impossibility. Even without 300 wins, however, Halladay is building a very strong Hall of Fame case for himself, which is particularly impressive given the fact that early struggles and injuries limited him to just two full seasons, including that 2003 Cy Young award year, through the age of 28.
In each of the five seasons since then, Halladay has won at least 16 games and finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting in his league. He has led his league in complete games in each of the last four seasons and in six of the last eight, led the majors in complete games in three of the last four seasons, led his league in shutouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio in each of the last three seasons, and the majors in both categories in two of the last three years.
Over the last three seasons combined, he has clearly been the best pitcher in the majors, leading all hurlers with 500 or more innings over that span in ERA (2.67), ERA+ (157), wins (58), innings (735 2/3), complete games (27, 10 more than his closest competitor), shutouts (10, four more than the next man on the list), K/BB ratio (6.09), WHIP (1.07), fewest walks per nine innings (1.27), and average game score (61, tied with Tim Lincecum), and Baseball Prospectus's win-expectancy based Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Above Replacement (SNLVAR), which rates him as worth 24.6 wins more than a replacement starter over the last three years.
As far as a Hall of Fame peak, Halladay is having one. Consider some of the peak-evaluation questions on Bill James' Keltner List, a collection of 15 subjective questions designed to gauge the Hall of Fame qualifications of a player (the Keltner list was designed to evaluate hitters, so I've subbed in "pitcher" for "player" and "Cy Young award" for "MVP" where necessary):
1. Was he ever regarded as the best pitcher in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best pitcher in baseball?
2. Was he the best player on his team?
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
One down, several to go . . .
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
He pitched in the AL East during the steroid era and in hitter-friendly home ballparks.
11. How many Cy Young-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win a Cy Young award? If not, how many times was he close?
Two Cy Youngs thus far, top five four other times, should have received votes in 2002 as well.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?
Seven time All-Star. Fifteen pitchers have made it eight times, all are current or future Hall of Famers (well, one is Roger Clemens, but you get the idea).
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Nothing significant, though one could argue his complete games are fighting the overall trend against them.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
For a more objective look at Halladay's Hall-worthiness I turned to my friend and colleague Jay Jaffe, who's Jaffe WARP score system (JAWS) measures players against the existing standard for their position as established by those players already in the Hall. JAWS does this by taking the average of a player's total Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) for his career and peak (the latter defined as his best seven seasons), then comparing it to the average score of the existing Hall of Famers at his position (minus the lowest score, or in the case of pitchers, the bottom four scores). According to Jaffe, who ran the numbers for me this morning, Halladay's peak score is already 47.0 WARP compared to the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher's peak score of 47.7, and his overall JAWS score is 54.0 compared to the starting pitching standard of 59.1. That is to say that Halladay is already close to meeting the Hall's existing standard, and seems a very good bet to reach and surpass that standard as his career numbers continue to pile up.
JAWS doesn't measure the likelihood of enshrinement (would that it did; JAWS highlights in raw numbers just how much the electorate has undervalued Tim Raines and Alan Trammell, among others, while simultaneously overrating players such as Jim Rice and Andre Dawson). Still, if Halladay can put together a few more Cy Young-worthy seasons like his last three and retire with something north of 250 wins, he should be an easy choice. What we've just seen, then, could very well have been the best season of a Hall of Fame career.