Santana or Halladay? Who Gets the Ball?

Everyone listens to the Mets when they open their mouths in spring training, but no one ever takes them seriously. Over the last two seasons, the Mets have made headlines by sharing their pipe dreams and senseless predictions with the media.

“Let me tell you this: Without [Johan] Santana, we felt as a team we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we’re going to win in our division. I have no doubt in that.” – Carlos Beltran, Feb. 16, 2008


“Of course, we’re going to be the front-runner. Of course, we’re going to be the team to beat.” – Francisco Rodriguez, Dec. 13, 2008

Second verse same as the first.

“We’re expecting to go out there and win the National League East and go deep in the playoffs and win a World Series.” – David Wright, Feb. 18, 2010

To be determined.

Beltran’s lock for the division didn’t hold true in 2008, and K-Rod’s words didn’t hold up either, as the $37-million closer added to the Mets’ problems with career highs in ERA, WHIP and blown saves. Wright’s expectations have yet to play out, but let’s be honest, we all know how that story ends.

On Thursday, Johan Santana made headlines for a different reason. He didn’t call out the Phillies or proclaim the Mets as the odds-on favorite to win the World Series – an annual tradition his teammates started. Instead, Santana called himself the best pitcher in the division.

“In our division?” Santana replied when asked who the best pitcher in the NL East is. “Santana.”

It’s hard to get on Johan for thinking so highly of himself, even if Roy Halladay now calls the NL East home. Had Santana answered with Halladay’s name, it would have been a bigger issue than it already is. And if Halladay were ever asked the same question, you’d expect him to believe that he is the best pitcher in the NL East and not Santana.

Who is the best pitcher in the NL East? Santana or Halladay? We know what Mets fans think and what Phillies think, and everyone else would probably be split down the middle given their favorite team or personal allegiances.

So, here’s a better question: if you had to play a game for your life, would you start Santana or Halladay? No Mets jersey. No Phillies jersey. Who do you give the ball to?

The difference in their career stats is slim. While Santana has postseason experience, Halladay has spent his entire career in the AL East. Pitching against the Yankees and Red Sox on a consistent basis in the spring and summer isn’t exactly pitching in October. Then again, Santana would probably want us to leave October out of the equation since he’s 1-3 in the second season.

Both of them have Cy Youngs, sub-3.50 ERAs and unimaginable K /BB ratios. Santana might own a few strikeout titles, but Halladay owns something much more valuable: the ability to instill immense fear.

Paul O’Neill likes to talk about pitchers that make players check the calendar weeks in advance to see if they will miss them in an upcoming three-game series. Roy Halladay is that type of pitcher, and there is no other pitcher in baseball that is given the W before the game even starts. Santana might possess a similar intimidation, but in no way is it to this degree.

It doesn’t matter who is starting against Halladay or what lineup he will face, it is predetermined that he will win and there is really nothing that can be done about it. The best possible scenario you can hope for is that he has an “off” day and allows three runs. There is no such thing as working the count against Halladay, and there is no point in trying to keep the game close to get a shot at the bullpen. He is his own bullpen and his own closer.

Since Halladay broke into the league in 1998, the World Series champion has come from his division six of 12 seasons. He has made 78 starts and 83 appearances against the Yankees and Red Sox, going 32-20 with a 3.58 ERA. His only losing campaign in 12 years came at the age of 23, which is pretty remarkable considering he has never pitched for a division winner, and only once has he pitched for a division runner-up.

Halladay is the only pitcher whose removal from the AL East translates into four or five additional wins for the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and Orioles this season. He is the one pitcher whose trade status last season had the ability to drastically alter a pennant race, and whose mere placement on the market caused a fan base to turn on its front office. He was the sole reason that the Blue Jays stayed out of the basement in the AL East all these years, and he was a symbol of hope for an organization that hasn’t experienced postseason play since 1993.

Roy Halladay is more than just a 148-76 record. He’s more than a career .661 winning percentage or 3.43 ERA. He’s more than a pitcher who dominated the AL East and the best two teams in baseball for a decade. He’s more than a pitcher who handled the competition with ease for a large portion of the Steroid Era. He’s Roy Halladay, the best pitcher on the planet.

Mets fans won’t want to admit that the best pitcher in baseball is a member of their division rival. They surely won’t want to admit that they would give the ball to that pitcher in a must-win situation, but it’s the right call.

In a game for everything, Halladay’s presence would have the other team believing they can’t win, and his actual stuff would finish them off. You have to give him the ball.