Roy Halladay: Hall of Fame talent gone too soon

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If it wasn’t for a shoulder that betrayed him while his talents otherwise remained at their peak, it’s possible that Roy Halladay would’ve still be an active pitcher. Guys with his gifts and drive often last twenty seasons, after all, and 2017 would’ve been his 20th. If he had continued to pitch, he might have 270 or 280 wins and the only question about the remainder of his baseball career might’ve been whether he would wear a Phillies or a Blue Jays cap on his plaque in Cooperstown. His shoulder did betray him, however, ending his career at the age of 36. And, of course, he died today, tragically, at the age of 40.

While an abrupt end to a career after spending one’s whole life in baseball may cause some players to sulk or flail, Halladay took to his early retirement easily. Always an intense man on the field, in retirement, Halladay revealed to the public just how affable, easy going and downright goofy he could be.

He dressed up as Jamie Moyer to an 80s-themed Halloween partyHe took a fan who wanted nothing more than to have Halladay take him to the zoo, to the zooHe goofed on A-RodHe got into fights with Roger Clemens over social media, and had the public on his side. He got multiple speeding tickets in one day but had the humility to laugh about it. And, of course, he took to his new hobby — aviation — with a passion and joy.

Those who knew him personally and those who loved him will no doubt be sharing their stories about Halladay the man in the coming days. I want to talk about Halladay the ballplayer for a moment, because at a time like this all that can make a person feel better is concentrating on the joy he created, and most of us experienced the joy of Roy Halladay through his pitching.

Halladay’s career started slowly, as he was famously demoted all the way back to single-A ball after his first couple of years in the majors with the Blue Jays. There he rebuilt his delivery and his approach. Back to the bigs for good in 2002, Halladay embarked on a ten-year peak that few if any pitchers have duplicated in recent memory.

From 2002-2011, Halladay went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA and 1,699 strikeouts in 2,194 2/3 innings. He went to eight All-Star Games, won two Cy Young Awards, in 2003 and 2010, and finished second twice more. During that span, he led his league in wins twice, innings four times and complete games seven times. He never won an ERA crown, but he finished second three times, third twice and fifth twice. bWAR ranked him as his league’s top pitcher in four of those seasons, and he was in the top four eight times.

Halladay’s 62.4 bWAR from ages 25-34 ranks as the 10th best ever among pitchers. Everyone else in the top 16 on the list is a Hall of Famer.

87.7 – Walter Johnson
77.3 – Pete Alexander
70.6 – Pedro Martinez
70.2 – Roger Clemens
68.0 – Greg Maddux
67.2 – Tom Seaver
64.9 – Lefty Grove
63.8 – Bob Gibson
63.0 – Ed Walsh
62.4 – Roy Halladay
58.8 – Christy Mathewson
58.5 – Warren Spahn
58.1 – Fergie Jenkins
58.1 – Eddie Plank
57.0 – Gaylord Perry
55.6 – Carl Hubbard

Halladay’s slow start and early retirement prevented him from putting up the sorts of overall career numbers most of those guys did, but the greatness of his peak should overcome the length of his career. He still got 200 wins, finishing with 203, in an era when wins for starting pitchers became harder and harder to come by. While he only reached the postseason twice — in 2010 and 2011 — he tossed a no-hitter against the Reds in the NLDS in 2010. He also tossed the 20th perfect game in major league history, blanking the Florida Marlins in order on May 29, 2010. He tossed ten inning games twice, pitching a shutout in one in 2003 and winning a second one in 2007.

In recent years, elite starting pitchers have had a hard time getting Hall of Fame support, mostly due to the fact that win totals aren’t what they once were. Guys like Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling are notable oversights in this regard. I suspected, before today, that Halladay would have similar trouble gaining induction due to his relatively short career. I don’t know what his untimely death will do for his Hall of Fame candidacy. It’s a crass question to ask, honestly, and one I don’t want to dwell on at the moment.

I do, however, think it’s worth thinking about Halladay’s career and acknowledging its undeniable greatness today. Partially because it helps to think of the good times when we’ve lost someone. Partially because there’s nothing else we can do.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.