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Roy Halladay, Mark Prior Retire

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Baseball saw two impactful pitchers hang up their cleats this week.

Roy Halladay, Mark Prior Retire

Yesterday, Roy Halladay called it a career after 16 MLB seasons, and he did so with the team that drafted him: the Toronto Blue Jays. Today, Mark Prior retired unceremoniously after a comeback attempt that was largely fruitless. While both pitchers ended up taking different paths, both were derailed by injuries and both were as dominant in their own ways as many pitchers of the 21st century.

Halladay's career numbers speak for themselves. He was a workhorse of a pitcher who ate up innings and quickly worked through lineups due to his accurate and devastating pitches. Maybe Halladay's most impressive stat is his 67 complete games in an era with specialists and more emphasis on using the bullpen. Halladay leaves with 67 complete games for his career. The next closest: CC Sabathia with 37. Halladay was able to effectively pitch to contact to avoid high pitch counts and remain in games longer. He wasn't a big strikeout guy, but he didn't walk many either. From 2001-2012, his BB/9 was never higher than 2.3 and he never walked more than 80 batters in a single season.

Halladay led his league in innings pitched four seasons, averaging 232 innings a year for his career. He won 203 games and lost 105 with a career ERA of 3.38. He won two Cy Young awards (one with Toronto and one with the Philadelphia Phillies) and memorably threw a no-hitter in his first ever postseason start against the Cincinnati Reds back in 2010. During a four-year stretch from 2008-2011, Halladay put out sub-2.79 ERAs, won no fewer than 17 games (including 20 and 21-win campaigns), led the major leagues in K/BB ratio and finished second, fifth, first and second in Cy Young voting, respectively. Halladay was consistently dominant, but his workmanlike demeanor and (and the fact he was stranded on bad Toronto teams for much of that stretch) kept him kind of hidden. It also took him a few years before he truly found his footing and became Roy Halladay.

Prior, on the other hand, came into the majors with high expectations. He and Kerry Wood were meant to anchor the Chicago Cubs rotation for years to come, and he lived up to the billing initially. Prior's incredible stuff (fastball that could reach triple-digits, devastating breaking pitches and impressive command). He had his finest season, coincidentally, when Halladay won his first Cy Young award in 2003. Prior finished 18-6 with 245 strikeouts in 211 innings. He finished third in Cy Young voting and led the Cubs to the NLCS (and the infamous Steve Bartman game). 

But that postseason eventually took its toll. As Cliff Corcoran noted in the article linked above, Prior was worked hard that September. "From his first start in September through his complete game against the Braves in the Division Series, his pitch counts were 131, 129, 109, 124, 131, 133, 133. After that season, he was never the same."

After that year, Prior pitched in parts of three more seasons with Chicago. His stuff was diminished and he couldn't stay healthy. Future rehab attempts were riddled with setbacks, and he was never able to regain his past form.

Most telling from the article might be this final paragraph:

"Perhaps there is no better measurement of the impact Prior had than this: In 2003, at age 22, Prior made four starts of 130 or more pitches in 33 total starts between the regular and postseasons. In 2013, there were just four such games in all of the major leagues in 2,469 regular and postseasons games — none by a pitcher under the age of 25."

Prior has become a cautionary tale more than anything else, a case study on the dangers of overworking young starting pitchers. Really, though, he was probably just more a victim of bad luck. Prior hasn't thrown a pitch in the major leagues since 2006, and after attempting several different comebacks with several different teams, Prior decided that enough was enough.

Both Halladay and Prior were notable figures in the modern game for very different reasons. One has a decent case to make the Hall of Fame, and Prior will always be a part of "What If?" conversations. Both will be missed, but I'm sure one will be missed more than the other.

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