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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is Philadelphia Phillies RHP Roy Halladay Over the Hill?

Is Roy Halladay over the hill? Probably. But that depends on what you think a hill is. He may be finished as a dominant major league starting pitcher, but really, that happens to every dominant major league starting pitcher. Halladay is a three-time 20-game winner, a two-time Cy Young winner, an eight-time all-star and he’s led the league in complete games seven different years. He also threw a perfect game in his first career playoff start and has registered just one losing season in his 16 year career.

Okay, now that nostalgia is out of the way, let’s talk about where he is now. Halladay turns 36-years-old next month, and any man closer to 40 than 30 is going to see his professional skills deteriorate. To this point, Hallday’s career numbers (199 wins, 3.34 ERA, 2078 strikeouts in 2694 innings) compare closely with an impressive list of pitchers from years past, including: Mike Mussina, Bob Welch, Andy Pettitte and Bret Saberhagen. His list of contemporaries also includes Kevin Brown, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry & Tim Hudson. The metric for comparison, created by Bill James and reinterpreted by Baseball Reference, computes wins, losses, ERA, starts, complete games, innings, and strikeouts, among other scales.

I took the liberty of comparing the age-36 season of these eight pitchers in an effort to predict how Roy Halladay might perform this season. I excluded Chicago’s Lon Warneke and New York’s Carl Hubbel, who also compare well with Halladay, because they pitched in the 1930s in an era long before innovations like racial integration and Coors Field.

That being said, here are a few notes from those age-36 seasons:

Andy Pettitte led the group with 204 innings pitched and 158 strikeouts with the New York Yankees in 2008.

Kevin Brown’s 2.65 ERA in 2001 with the Dodgers was tops in the group.

Tim Hudson’s 16 wins last season were especially impressive, as well as Mike Mussina’s 142 punch-outs in 2005.

No pitcher pitched more than four more seasons after turning 36, however, Pettite and Hudson are still active at ages 41 and 37, respectively. (Pettitte took a year off)

Bret Saberhagen and Dwight Gooden were excluded from the study because neither pitched in the big leagues at age 36.

On average, these eight aforementioned Halladay contemporaries middled out to an 11-9 season with a 4.03 ERA, 111 Ks in 160.1 innings.

Before a down year in 2012, Roy Halladay averaged 19 wins, 213 Ks and 242.1 innings pitched from 2008-2011. That Roy Halladay is probably finished. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be an above average pitcher. For what it’s worth, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux each had ERAs under 3.00 at age 36, and Roger Clemens lost a total of 18 games in three seasons with the Astros when he was in his 40s.

Look for Halladay to be good, but not great, as his career winds to a close; and try to appreciate his prior dominance when analyzing his current misfortune.

Zuri Irvin -- @zurirvin

Zuri Irvin is a graduate of Syracuse University currently living in Los Angeles. He also runs the @sportprose account on Twitter.

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