It’s not exactly easy for any arm to challenge — and arguably exceed — Dave Stieb‘s place in Toronto Blue Jays lore, but it’s hard to say that Roy Halladay hasn’t done it.
On top of being just two of the all-time best pitchers that has put on the uniform for the Bluebirds, the two also share similarities in health, with Steib retiring due to back problems in an aborted age-35 season and Halladay hanging it up after a disastrous age-36 season that was also plagued with ongoing back issues.
And while both had their own unique impact in different eras for the franchise and will ultimately mean different things for the Blue Jays, the similarities end when you look at the numbers.
In fact, if you were to try to determine the team’s all-time best starter by anything besides traditional stats, it’s hard not to give Halladay at least the edge. No, he didn’t make as many starts, pitch as many innings, and did go off in the final years in search of a ring that will always elude him, but all of that only goes on to make what Halladay accomplished in his years in Toronto that much more remarkable.
With 51.8 fWAR accumulated over 1990 innings, Doc is easily the pitcher who was worth the most wins in Blue Jays history by that metric, something that is coincidentally in line with the mostly irrelevant win percentage of 50.5 percent compared Stieb’s 42.6. Yes, Halladay win his share of games while Stieb’s teams weren’t very good, but it wouldn’t have changed anything about the former’s prowess on the mound even if there was no coincidence.
In their time with Toronto, Doc’s 3.46 K/BB easily topped Stieb’s 1.59 as he exhibited far superior control of his arsenal, while one of the pillar in Stieb’s an excellent 3.42/1.24 ERA/WHIP was a .259 BABIP compared to Halladay’s .292. Stieb got definitely got his numbers — after all, a 45.7 career fWAR with the team is nothing to scoff at — but he neither struck out batters as well as Doc (6.64 K/9 vs. 5.20), or walk fewer batters (3.17 BB/9 vs. 1.92).
In short, while it might sound somewhat blasphemous to say this about Stieb in the context of all-time Blue Jays, he never quite got outs as efficiently as Doc.
That opens up a whole other topic about Stieb’s greatness despite this, but it’s ultimately a nicer way to say that his stuff just wasn’t quite as good as Halladay’s. While the former was a consistent, incredible innings eater in his time (back when it was okay for folks to throw close to 300 innings) and was a seven-time All-Star, he never once topped 6.0 fWAR in a single season.
Halladay, a modern version of that type of workhorse pitcher (led all MLB starters with 1788.1 innings from 2002-2009), topped it four times in his years with the Blue Jays — all 7.0-plus fWAR seasons.
Both pitchers did their job and gave their team the best possible chance to win each time out, but since there can’t be a tie when it comes to this sort of debate and that the intangibles (Steib’s role for the 80s Blue Jays, Halladay’s demotion-to-ace redemption story, both coming back to Toronto at the end of their respective careers) are not quantifiable, a choice must be made.
In this case, since both pitched substantial innings, it’s hard to argue Halladay’s quality-over-quantity factor in his body of work.
Then again, if you were to just go by WAR, Steib would be almost 10 wins ahead of Halladay at 57.4 to 48.5, so … I guess it’s never that simple, is it? Whether you see them as a no. 1-2 or no. 1 and 1A, I think there won’t be much of an argument over just what Halladay meant for this franchise in the 2000. Even if he hadn’t signed that one-day contract to end his career as a member of the Blue Jays, he’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest.
Some things are harder to truly appreciate until they’re gone, but for Blue Jays fans, Doc’s greatness was never in doubt.