In July, you’re probably going to read a stat-filled column by Philadelphian Jayson Stark with a title very similar to that one. I’m just going to plant the seed in your mind a little bit early.
3-0, 24 IP, 21 K’s, 2 BB, 1:13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP.
That’s Halladay’s season stat line after his latest brutally efficient outing in Friday night’s win over the Marlins. As absurd as it sounds, people need to get used to this. If Halladay remains healthy all season – he’s averaged slightly more than 230 innings pitched the last four years – he could join a very rare fraternity atop the single-season wins leaderboard.
These are the seven pitchers that have won 24 or more games in the last 30 years:
Steve Carlton, 24 in ’80
Dwight Gooden, 24 in ’85
Roger Clemens, 24 in ’86
Frank Viola, 24 wins in ’88
John Smoltz, 24 in ’96
Randy Johnson, 24 in ’02
Bob Welch, with 27(!) wins in ’90.
Welch’s feat is remarkable in the modern day era of strict pitch counts, max effort pitches, ultra-patient hitters, five-man rotations and 35-start seasons for starting pitchers.
(Slight tangent: If you ever get into a bar-stool argument about “which sports record is the least likely to fall?” you can end the debate pretty quickly by bringing up pitching wins. No starter is going to match Old Hoss Radbourn’s 59 wins in 1884 or Cy Young’s 511 career wins anytime soon. You know why? Because pitchers today don’t have bad-ass names like “Old Hoss Radbourn.” That name was probably worth half a dozen wins all by itself).
Welch won his 27 games in only 35 starts, and we know Halladay will be working within the same constraints. Let’s look at how their situations compare:
Welch was great in 1990, but he also benefited from playing in front of one of the truly dominant teams of the last 30 years, the 1990 Oakland A’s, who were upset by the Reds that season in their third consecutive World Series appearance.
Halladay plays for, arguably, the only truly dominant team in the National League, and probably the best offensive club in the NL. With apologies to Tim Lincecum, he’s probably the best pitcher in the game, which will become more apparent now that he’s left the AL East meat grinder and switched to the lighter-hitting Senior Circuit.
Both Welch and Halladay also understand that strikeouts are Fascist. Welch earned a decision in an incredible 33 of his 35 starts in that 1990 season, which is only possible by consistently pitching deep into games. To consistently reach the 8th inning against patient, modern-era lineups requires an efficient use of pitches. Although Halladay has much better stuff than Welch did, he shares the same aversion to walks, and has never come close to striking out a batter per inning in his 11 previous big-league seasons in Toronto. That pitch-to-contact approach is part of what has enabled Halladay to rack up 25 complete games in the last three seasons. No middle relievers ever vulture away wins from Doc.
Winning 20+ games requires a lot of luck, being a part of a great team, and obviously being a great pitcher. Winning 25 or more would require a tornado of positive factors all blowing in the right direction, and Roy Halladay seems to have that in 2010.
Can Doc become only the second pitcher to 25 wins since the 1970′s? Can he match Welch’s incredible 27-win season?
Time will tell. But you can expect national columns about “Old Hoss Halladay” and the chase all summer long. Consider yourself warned.