The Phillies' Roy Halladay...the return of the 25-game winner?
While I generally stay away from making predictions (pre-season or otherwise) in this space, I feel a compelling case can be made for Phillies starter Roy Halladay to become the major's first 25-game winner in more than two decades. Now before I lay out the rationale behind my theory, let's briefly look back in time for a little historical perspective on just how truly rare this milestone has become.
In fact, since 1975, there have been only three pitchers to notch at least 25 wins in a single season in the major leagues. The last time it was done was the Oakland A's Bob Welch in 1990, when he won 27. Additionally, Steve Stone's 25 in 1980 and Ron Guidry's 25 in 1978 complete this short list. By comparison, the 15-year period between 1960 and 1975 produced more than a dozen such 25-win seasons. I would argue that fact says more about the disappearance of the four-man rotation than the quality of today's arms. When you realize that since Welch's feat in 1900, only John Smoltz (24-8 in 35 starts in 1996) and Randy Johnson (24-5 in 35 starts in 2002) have come close to 25, it makes clear just how many things have to fall perfectly into place.
But Halladay's move from the American League to the more pitcher-friendly National League might just provide such a perfect storm of factors. First of all, the change in leagues (not to mention divisions) will benefit him greatly. Instead of having to regularily face the offensive juggernauts of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, whom he faced for 15 of his 32 starts in 2009, Halladay can potentially feast on the Nationals, Mets and Marlins. Instead of making his way through American League line-ups with a DH, he can now face off against N.L. nines where the opposing pitcher must still take his turn at the plate. A quick look at the record books shows that Halladay's past two seasons with Toronto have produced a sub-3.00 ERA both times. What might it be in the N.L. , where most opposing hitters will be facing him for the first time in their careers, and thus unfamiliar with his stuff?
The second factor is Halladay's proven track record as a workhorse. He has already put up four 20-win seasons, including a career-best 22 in 2003, all the while pitching for a mediocre team in Toronto. He has pitched more than 220 innings six times, including the last four straight seasons. Halladay also routinely pitches deep into games, having notched three seasons (including the last two) with nine complete games. For example, in his 32 starts for Toronto in 2009, he failed to make into the 7th inning just five times. So his endurance and ability to stay around into the late innings, when so many games are decided these days, is a huge plus for him.
Which bring us to potentially his biggest advantage of all. Pitching on a team with the offensive firepower of the Phillies. In 2009, the Phillies scored 820 runs, tops in the National League. They also hit 225 home runs, the second highest total in the major leagues. Only the Yankees, playing half their games in that "bandbox in the Bronx", hit more. For a starting pitcher like Halladay, who allowed 4 runs or less in 28 of his 32 starts in 2009, this provides a huge advantage in getting a W when taking the mound every fifth day for team that averaged more than five runs a game.
So, for all these reasons, I think it quite possible a timely combination of factors just might bring us a season on the mound truly worth remembering.