On Sunday, two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay will posthumously be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s a case to be made that his plaque – which won’t feature a Toronto Blue Jays or Philadelphia Phillies hat – should instead be engraved with the phrase “three-time Cy Young Award winner.”
In 2010, Halladay’s first season with the Phillies, he had one of the most memorable seasons a pitcher has ever had. In his age-33 season, Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA, 3.01 FIP, nine complete games and a 6.2 fWAR in over 250 regular season innings. The man affectionately referred to as “Doc” tossed a perfect game in Miami against the Marlins on May 29, 2010, before throwing just the second postseason no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, his first ever playoff start.
Halladay, deservedly so, won the 2010 National League Cy Young Award in unanimous fashion, becoming the fifth pitcher in baseball history to win the award in both the National League and the American League. But there’s a case to be made that while his 2011 regular season may not have been as memorable, it was actually the finest season of his career, one where he probably should have repeated as the winner of the award.
While anchoring one of the most dominant pitching rotations in MLB history in 2011, Halladay posted a career lows in ERA (2.35) and FIP (2.20), and career highs in both fWAR (8.7) and bWAR (8.8). While the Phillies won a franchise record 102 regular season games in 2011 and Halladay made his eighth and final All-Star team, he fell short in his quest to win back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards.
Instead of Halladay, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw – who is overwhelmingly likely to join Halladay in Cooperstown after his career concludes – won his first of three National League Cy Young Awards at age 23. There’s no debate about whether Kershaw, who went 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA, had a Cy Young caliber season in 2011. There’s a debate to be had about whether in the context of the 2011 National League Cy Young Award race Kershaw was the most worthy recipient of the coveted award.
Though the focus from awards voters has shifted away from from win/loss record and just back-of-the baseball-card statistics this decade, Kershaw winning over 20 games, while Halladay fell just short, certainly helped his case, whether it was conscious or subconscious. But when you dig a little deeper, which is seemingly the job of awards voters, the scales tip in the direction of Halladay.
While Kershaw posted a remarkable 2.47 FIP, Halladay finished the season with a FIP 27 points lower at 2.20. Halladay’s 8.7 fWAR comfortably topped the mark of Kershaw, who posted a 7.4 fWAR in 2011. The gap in terms of bWAR, which prioritizes earned runs allowed, was even larger, with Halladay posting an 8.8 bWAR, compared to a 6.7 bWAR from Kershaw.
Kershaw did lead baseball in complete game shutouts in 2011 with two, one more than Halladay. However, Halladay led baseball with eight total complete games, three more than Kershaw. In nearly identical innings totals (Halladay literally pitched a third of an inning more than Kershaw in the 2011 regular season), Halladay topped Kershaw and the rest of the league in ERA+, walks per nine and strikeout-to-walk-ratio.
In addition to leading the league in wins and ERA, Kershaw led all pitchers in strikeouts, WHIP and hits-per-nine. Voting for Kershaw to win the award in 2011 isn’t an unforgivable offense, but it instead comes down to what metrics you think are best for gauging the dominance of a pitcher. Personally, FIP, fWAR, innings pitched and complete games are the most important indicators of a great season for a starting pitcher, and Halladay topped Kershaw in all four of those categories.
The 2011 National League Cy Young Award race, in many ways, was similar to the 2018 National League Cy Young Award race. In both cases, a Phillie finished third (Cliff Lee in 2011 and Aaron Nola in 2018) and a future Hall of Famer finished runner-up (Halladay in 2011 and Max Scherzer in 2018), despite having arguably the best season of their storied careers. The difference between 2011 and 2018 is that in 2018, despite an incredible season from Scherzer, he clearly wasn’t better than New York Mets RHP Jacob deGrom, who led the league in FIP, fWAR and ERA by large margins. There wasn’t much of a case to be made that Scherzer was better than deGrom in 2018. Halladay’s 2011 case for having been the best pitcher in the National League is not only compelling enough to make, but it may just be right.
In any event, Halladay cemented his Hall of Fame case in his first two seasons as a Phillie, when he went a combined 40-16 with a 2.40 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 17 complete games and a 14.9 fWAR across 484.1 innings. Beyond just locally, Halladay will be remembered by many as a Phillie, not a Blue Jay, because with the Phillies, he got a chance to pitch on the national stage. And even if he probably should have repeated as the National League Cy Young Award winner in 2011, Halladay shined the brightest of any time in his career in his first two seasons in Philadelphia.
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