Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Halladay: First Philly Starter Since John Denny...to...Wait...Who?

To no one's surprise, Roy Halladay was unanimously chosen as this year's Cy Young Award winner. Halladay certainly deserved the honor and easily was the best pitcher in the National League. The AL winner is announced tomorrow and that one will get some discussion. Reading through some of the articles listing Halladay's achievements, it was stated that Halladay is the first Philly starter since John Denny to win the award. Denny won the award in 1983. This Fan can't remember him or that season at all. The only Denny this Fan can recall is Izzy's sick boyfriend on Grey's Anatomy.

It's funny how selective the memory is. If the eyes are closed, an image of Frank Howard, Elston Howard, Phil Rizzuto, Ron Bloomberg and a host of others are easily recalled. Yet a player from this writer's lifetime died the other day. His name was Ed Krkpatrick. Don't remember him at all and he played quite a few years. The same goes for John Denny. So just for kicks, this Fan figured to go look at his B-R page and see what he was all about. It didn't help much.

Denny's season in 1983 can be best summed up as a fluke. He had had only two other very good seasons before 1983 and that was way before for the Cardinals in 1976 and 1978. After 1978--a year in which he pitched eleven complete games and pitched the most innings of his career at that point--Denny struggled and missed chunks of the next bunch of seasons due to various ailments. He wandered up to Cleveland, where he toiled for two years, one being quite good. The Indians traded Denny to the Phillies in 1982 for which he got into four unspectacular games and lost two of them. With that lead in, there was no hint that Denny could explode on the scene like he did in 1983.

"Explode" isn't the right word because Denny was never an explosive pitcher. He averaged 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings for his career and never strayed much higher than that in any of his years. But it was like he ran into Dave Duncan or something in 1983 (Claude Osteen was his pitching coach there). His walks per nine had been over four for the five previous seasons up to that one and in 1983 he only walked 2.0 batters per nine. Combine that with a good luck BABIP of .284 and an exciting pennant race team like the Phillies that year and it all clicked for Denny. He ended up winning 19 games against seven losses with an ERA of 2.37. He only gave up nine homers for a league leading rate of 0.3 per nine. He won thirteen of his last fifteen decisions.

Denny got the loss in his one playoff appearance on three unearned runs but was 1-1 in the World Series the Phillies eventually lost to the Orioles. His win was the only win the Phillies had in that World Series. It was just one of those years and he won the Cy Young Award.

The following season, Denny pitched even better. His WHIP went all the way down to .0978 and his BB/9 rate went down further to 1.7. But Denny only got fourteen decisions out of his 22 starts and half of them were losses. He started to have arm problems and missed eleven starts. The year after that, he was again up to 33 starts, but the magic was gone. His walk rate was back over three, his WHIP was 1.452 and he went 11-14.

He only pitched one more year after that for the Cincinnati Reds. He was better than he was in 1985 and he went 11-10. But he retired the following year, just three years after his Cy Young season. Denny was later a pitching coach with the Diamondbacks, few of whose games this writer ever gets to watch.

So Denny wasn't like Doc. Doc has had an entire career of success. Doc's season was expected after moving over from the tough AL East to the National League and that's just how it turned out. Denny's season was so out of the blue that it had to be a shock at the time. But if it was a shock this Fan missed it or wasn't paying attention. Halladay was a Number One pick, Denny was selected in the 29th Round.

In any case, much to the Fan's surprise, there was a guy who pitched for the Phillies and once won a Cy Young Award and rode a magical season into the World Series. Just as quickly as he jumped to that kind of success, it melted away. Just because it isn't remembered, doesn't mean it didn't happen. Congrats, Mr. Halladay, on a fantastic season.

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