On Opening Day, 2012, Roy Halladay threw eight shutout innings, allowing two hits and no walks. He did this because he was Roy Halladay, scourge of opposing baseball teams. He threw at least seven innings in each of his starts that month, finishing with a 1.95 ERA.
Thirty-three starts later, he's gone. Halladay announced his retirement Monday.
Imagine saying the following sentence in 2010: Roy Halladay just isn't likely to have the same kind of lengthy, extended career as Bartolo Colon. That would have sounded more like a password secret agents would mutter to each other under a bridge. Halladay was the sure thing of sure things, the most reliable (and best) pitcher in baseball. He was going to pitch until he was 40, at least, slowing down at an easily excusable, age-typical pace.
Baseball usually has other plans, and it sure stiffed Halladay. To honor the surly, sublime cutter lord, here are the three lessons Halladay left us with:
Lesson #1: Sometimes young pitchers aren't hurt
Young pitcher shows promise. Young pitcher pitches horribly. We all secretly conclude the young pitcher is broken, and that he'll likely have elbow or shoulder surgery soon. You'll probably see that progression this year, maybe even more than once. Usually, it pans out.
Halladay is a reminder that pitchers occasionally need to be rebuilt, but not starting with the elbow or shoulder. Here's a fascinating account of how Halladay moved from a lost 23-year-old to the perennial Cy Young contender. Spoiler: It wasn't easy.
There were few pitchers as broken as Halladay back in 2000. His 10.64 ERA from that season is the second-highest in history from a pitcher with 10 or more starts in a season — higher than Steve Blass's mark in 1973. The Jays sent him to Triple-A, where he was awful, and he started all the way back in Class-A the next season. Eventually, there was going to be a DL stint and a surgery announcement. That's how these things work.
There was no announcement. Halladay drank Elixir of Command, developed a master cutter, and mowed his way back to the majors. Remember Halladay the next time you assume a prospect in your team's organization is irreparably broken. Sometimes they just need to figure things out, possibly with the help of a strong coaching staff and organizational support structure. Crazy, I know.
Lesson #2: Hard, moving pitches thrown with pinpoint accuracy are the best pitches
See, this is why we should charge for this stuff. Hard pitches thrown perfectly have a great chance of succeeding. Now, that's analysis.
Even though it's an obvious lesson, Halladay was his generation's proof for the theorem. What made Halladay so good? Cutters in on the hand, cutters in on the thumbs, cutters moving away, cutters moving in, all setting up one of the better curveballs in the game, and all thrown right about where he wanted them thrown.
One of the better bar topics of the last couple of decades is what Mariano Rivera would have done if he stayed a starter. If you're looking for a best-case scenario, Halladay is probably the best comparison we have. Actually, there were several seasons where Halladay basically was Rivera, just with an extra couple of pitches and 180 more innings.
There are good pitchers, there are great pitchers, and then there are the pitchers who make you sad before the first inning even starts, who seem impossible to master, who make you admire them even as they're cutting up your team, who seem like they have the answer key to baseball's test. For at least eight or nine seasons, that was how everyone felt about Halladay.
Lesson #3: Pitchers return to their home planet without notice
As the Winter Meetings kick off, here's a thought exercise: What would Halladay have received as a free agent if he were on the market after 2011? That was after his fourth straight 230-inning, sub-3.00 ERA season. He had just finished second in the Cy Young voting, his sixth-straight season in the top five. He was going to be 35, but that sort of thing wasn't going to make as much of a difference for Halladay, right?
Five years, at least $120 million. Possibly with player options. Just a guess, but the contract would have been huge.
How about if he were a free agent on this market. Remember, Bronson Arroyo and Bartolo Colon are checking in with multi-year deals, even though they're both older than Halladay. Ricky Nolasco got four years and many millions in this market.
Six years, at least $150 million. Pitchers are a risk, but, hey, Halladay's different, you might have thought.
It would have been a complete fiasco, the kind of thing that would have made people stop reading the Worst Contracts In Baseball articles because they already knew who was #1. It probably would have messed with Halladay's legacy, to be honest.
Again, pitchers suddenly becoming less effective isn't exactly a new trend that Halladay started. But just like the part up there where he was the face of how stuff-and-command could make for an unbeatable pitcher, Halladay is now the generation's example of a pitcher who was the absolute best until he wasn't.
It's kind of depressing. Halladay retiring puts me in a bad mood, actually. I was hoping the Giants would sign him, just so I could watch him pitch every fifth day, even if he wasn't the same pitcher he used to be.
Baseball's a little duller without Halladay. I thought the Winter Meetings were supposed to bring us cool news. But at least Halladay taught us a few things as he was alternately amazing and infuriating his opponents.