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Projecting Roy Halladay

Posted by Andy on November 10, 2009

With all the attention that Roy Halladay is going to get this off-season (and probably into the 2010 season as well) I thought it might be interesting to guess how the rest of his career is going to turn out.

With the similarity scores recently updated to include 2009 stats, let's first look at the 10 most similar pitchers through age 32:

Similar Pitchers through 32
Compare Stats to Similars
  1. Tim Hudson (964)
  2. Mike Mussina (939)
  3. Bret Saberhagen (935)
  4. Dizzy Dean (933) *
  5. Don Newcombe (923)
  6. John Candelaria (921)
  7. Andy Pettitte (921)
  8. Jim Bunning (914) *
  9. Jimmy Key (913)
  10. Dennis Leonard (911)

I found this list very surprising as I expected to see higher quality pitchers, on average. Mind you, I'm not suggesting that being similar to Mussina, Dean, or Key is a bad thing, but let's look a bit more closely.

Hudson, as one of two active players on this list, isn't much help. The point of this post to to try to guess how the rest of Halladay's career is going to go but Hudson is only one year older (and was injured most of that year) so he doesn't give us much data on the future for Halladay.

The two current HOFers on the list, Dean and Bunning, are interesting examples. Dean was essentially finished as a pitcher by age 30, pitching only 5 more innings in the majors after that. Dean had a great career but very short and also doesn't tell us anything about what to expect for Halladay in the future. Bunning is generally regarded as one of the weakest pitchers in the HOF (as is Dean, in fact, in his case based only on brevity of career.) Bunning had a few outstanding years, a handful of good years, and bunch of average years. He pitched 7 seasons after his Age 32 year. The first 3 of those (1965-1967) were all excellent, but he never pitched a full season (or a particularly good one) after that.

The fact that there are no other HOFers other than the two mentioned is, I think, a bad sign for Halladay's HOF chances. More on that below.

Mike Mussina was up and down after his Age 32 season (which came in 2001) and never pitched as many as 220 innings in any of those seasons. He averaged 189 IP over the 7 subsequent seasons.

Saberhagen was injured during his Age 32 season, joining the Red Sox the next year in 1997. Although he pitched fairly well (including a 0.8 BB/9 in 1998!) he totaled only 335 innings more in his career, spread over 4 injury-riddled seasons.

Newcombe's Age 32 season came in 1958, the year he was traded from the Dodgers to the Reds (or Redlegs as they were still officially known back then.) After that, he lasted only 2 more seasons, pitching 358 innings total.

Candelaria bounced around for 7 more seasons after age 32 (1986 with the Angels), eventually becoming a lefty relief specialist. He started only 44 games after 1986 but appeared in 206 others. His numbers were decidedly average.

Pettitte was injured in his Age 32 season and didn't pitch much. Since then, he's averaged 210 IP. His Age 33 season was superb but he's been average in his last 4. He'll probably be back with the Yankees next year but isn't likely to be much more than an average pitcher. (That being said, Pettitte hit a ton of milestone incentives this past season that boosted his salary significantly.)

Key follows a similar pattern to Pettitte, with a great season the year after his Age 32 season. In 1994 at age 33, Key led the league with 17 wins (remember that year was strike-shortened and could have cost Key his only real shot at 20 wins) and finished second in the Cy Young voting. After that, though, Key was slightly above-average pitcher who couldn't stay healthy. He pitched only 4 more years, averaging just 123 innings per season.

Finally, Leonard was injured in his Age 32 season and missed all of his Age 33 season. He came back to pitch just 194 innings more later in his career.

So, we see from this group of 10 that Halladay compares to a lot of guys who didn't pitch all that much or all that well after their Age 33 season (one year older than Halladay right now.) A few of the guys had very short careers after Age 32 and only Mussina, Pettitte, and Bunning had long careers as starters after that age.

This group is similar to Halladay, though, in that these guys were mostly very good pitchers who missed time due to injury early in their careers. That doesn't apply to everyone on the list--some of the guys compare to Halladay at Age 32 because they started their major-league careers a little later. But at this point, Halladay is a bit of a statistical oddity, being a top-tier pitcher over a long period of time despite having missed significant portions of 6 seasons (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005.)

This sort of thing can go two ways: 1) He's prone to injury and therefore may continue to have a lot of missed time for the rest of his career or 2) He doesn't have a lot of innings on his arm despite his age and therefore, if he can stay healthy, can put up some big numbers in the rest of his career.

Injuries are impossible to predict so it's impossible to say for certain which path he'll follow. For my money, though, looking at his comparison group above, I think future injuries are more likely than future excellent seasons. Sadly, I see Saberhagen as an excellent comp for Halladay.

Halladay's injuries are also why his HOF chances are slimmed down somewhat. He is going to have a hard time reaching significant career numbers because of the missed time earlier in his career. He has only 148 career wins now, making 300 impossible unless he has a miraculous run. Even 250 wins is fairly well out of reach unless he can string together 7-8 more seasons averaging 13-14 wins. That's certainly possible but not all that likely based on the comparison group above.

Let's take a look at a different comparison group. Here are all the pitchers since 1901 to throw at least 700 innings over their Ages 30-32 seasons with a cumulative ERA+ of at least 140.

  Cnt Player            Year ERA+   IP   From  To   Ages   G   GS  CG SHO  GF  W   L   W-L%  SV   H    R   ER   BB   SO    ERA   HR   BF  HBP
+----+-----------------+----+----+------+----+----+-----+----+---+---+---+---+---+---+-----+---+----+----+----+----+----+------+---+-----+---+
    1 Roy Halladay      2009  142  710.1 2007 2009 30-32   97  96  25   7   0  53  28  .654   0  686  271  243  122  553   3.08  55  2877  20
    2 Tom Glavine       1998  151  704.2 1996 1998 30-32  102 102  10   5   0  49  23  .681   0  621  244  220  238  490   2.81  47  2898   6
    3 Greg Maddux       1998  178  728.2 1996 1998 30-32  102 102  19   8   0  52  24  .684   0  626  218  193   93  553   2.38  33  2858  16
    4 Tom Seaver        1977  141  812.2 1975 1977 30-32  104 103  47  17   0  57  26  .687   0  627  242  227  231  674   2.51  44  3225   8
    5 Bob Gibson        1968  159  760.1 1966 1968 30-32   93  93  58  20   0  56  28  .667   0  559  201  172  180  640   2.04  41  2983  15
    6 Bucky Walters     1941  149  926   1939 1941 30-32  112 107  87  10   4  68  36  .654   2  783  301  260  289  381   2.53  44  3742  13
    7 Carl Hubbell      1935  151  924.1 1933 1935 30-32  136 102  71  16  28  67  36  .650  13  856  294  247  133  424   2.40  50  3726   8
    8 Lefty Grove       1932  185  871.1 1930 1932 30-32  135  92  76  10  40  84  19  .816  21  791  286  240  201  572   2.48  31  3558   7
    9 Walter Johnson    1920  181  760   1918 1920 30-32   99  73  68  19  26  51  37  .580   8  611  212  144  148  387   1.71   7  3010  20
   10 Hippo Vaughn      1920  146  898   1918 1920 30-32  113 108  76  16   5  62  40  .608   1  781  271  202  219  420   2.02  15  3625  21
   11 Christy Mathewson 1913  160  923   1911 1913 30-32  128 106  81   9  20  74  36  .673   9  905  303  211   93  368   2.06  19  3696   3
   12 Ed Walsh          1913  144  859.1 1911 1913 30-32  134  92  72  12  39  62  38  .620  15  750  287  213  205  543   2.23  11  3470  13
   13 Mordecai Brown    1909  177  888   1907 1909 30-32  128  92  79  23  34  76  24  .760  15  640  193  137  142  402   1.39   4  3363  18

This reflects, then, the 3 most recent seasons for Halladay and it casts him in a much better light. The only guys on this list not in the Hall of Fame are Glavine, Maddux, Walters, and Vaughn. Maddux is going to be there in 4 years, and I think Glavine will get in easily too.

More importantly for Halladay, only 3 of the 13 comparables on this list failed to put up at least 3 really good seasons after the age of 32 (Vaughn, Mathewson, and Walsh.)

However, the quality of this comparison group is debatable. Halladay has just finished what was arguably the healthiest 3-year period of his career. Most of the guys on the list above consistently pitched a lot of innings. It would be foolish to assume that Halladay will continue with what he's done over the last 3 years and ignore the 6 problem years he had previously.

If I had to guess, here's what I would project for Halladay: an excellent Age 33 season coming up in 2010. All of the comparables on both lists above support that notion, plus Halladay will be in a contract year unless he signs an extension before then. After that, who knows? I'm inclined to predict some injuries and maybe only 1000-1200 IP in the rest of his career afterward. Taken together, that should be good for another 90 wins or so, putting him at 238 for his career.

We'll see...

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 at 10:18 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Projecting Roy Halladay”

  1. JohnnyTwisto Says:

    Halladay has not been hurt as much as you say. He was just called up at the end of '98. He went back down to the minors for much of '00 and '01 to figure things out again after getting shelled in the majors. He spent some of '99 in the bullpen. He was hit by line drive and broke his leg in '05. So 2004 is the only season he's missed a lot of time with arm injuries. He is much more durable than Saberhagen.

    I've never thought the most-similar list is that useful for making projections. It's probably even less so for pitchers. Since starters are throwing fewer IP now than they have in the past, current pitchers get compared to old pitchers who were not really of the same quality.

  2. I'm with you, Andy, I was surprised that Halladay's comparables were of the Hudson-Mussina-Saberhagen variety and not a higher tier of hurler. I chalk some of that up to a slow start (career record of 18-17 on his 25th birthday). Regardless I think he's got an excellent shot at the HOF as long as he attains some reasonable numerical milestones. If he can win 52 games over his next three seasons, he will have 200 for his career, and an 11-year stint as a top tier starter / all-star / perennial CYA contender, which should be more than good enough to get him in. If he can avoid major injuries and average 15 wins until age 38, then he'll be 258 and a shoo-in for first ballot.

  3. Sorry, that's 238, not 258, if he averages 15 wins through age 38. Still a HOF probable but maybe not a slam dunk.