On one night, Halladay shows why he's the best

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You hate to base anything on one game.

Especially in a sport like baseball, where David Eckstein can be a World Series MVP. Where Craig Counsell can be the guy at the bottom of the dogpile after scoring the title-clinching run. Where Don Larsen, a journeyman pitcher with a career record of 81-91, can become the only pitcher in baseball history to throw a perfect game in the World Series.

But in one game on Wednesday night, Roy Halladay showed why he is the best pitcher in baseball.

Felix Hernandez? Brilliant. CC Sabathia? A strong, tough workhorse. David Price? A dazzling, rising star. But for all the attention those three have garnered in the contentious AL Cy Young debate, none of them would have a prayer if it were simply the MLB Cy Young. Halladay would own it.

Unlike Larsen in 1956, Halladay didn’t catch lightning in a bottle on Wednesday night. He simply did what he always does: carve up bats and mow down hitters. It’s almost boring how efficiently the right-hander can dominate from the mound. This is nothing new for Halladay, who already has a Cy Young award (2003) and seven All-Star appearance on his resume, and who threw a perfect game back in May of this season. The difference is that after 13 seasons in the big leagues, he finally got the chance to show it on the biggest of stages. In his first playoff start.

There were a couple of scary moments on Wednesday night. Jayson Werth made a nice catch to rob Travis Wood in the third inning. Jimmy Rollins made a pair of rangy plays to chase down grounders from his shortstop position. And Carlos Ruiz made perhaps the toughest play of the night, gunning down Brandon Phillips on a tough-angle throw from his knees for the final out.

But for the most part Halladay dominated, painting the corners with filthy breaking balls and fastballs that darted and dove like … well, like breaking balls. His stuff was so electric that Reds MVP candidate Joey Votto was moved to say it was “like trying to hit nothing. He’s an ace among aces.”

Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera was so frustrated that he blamed the umpire, claiming Halladay was “getting every pitch.” Sorry Orlando but the evidence suggests otherwise: of Halladay’s 104 pitches, only one of them was erroneously called a strike.

The day before the game, Halladay said he wasn’t going to change anything in preparing for his first postseason start. And why should he? His work ethic and preparation are legendary, his attitude laudable, his talent unmatched.

Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee told Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com that “the only time I worry about Roy Halladay is if he was stuck in traffic.”

Unfortunately for the Reds, Halladay made it to the park in plenty of time, and he made the night his own. He didn’t catch lightning in a bottle, he was already keeping it there. And on Wednesday night it was unleashed it for the world to see.

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Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.