No Reason to Worry About Halladay

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has noticed some changes in Roy Halladay:

Halladay is using his trademark two-seam fastball 10 percent of the time, compared with 27 percent in ‘11 and 30 percent in ’10. His average fastball velocity is 90.1 mph, compared with 91.4 mph in ‘11 and 92.8 mph in ‘10.

He is throwing 51 percent cutters, 23 percent curveballs and 16 percent splitters, all increases over the past two seasons (Halladay had thrown only 13 percent curves through four starts in ’11 and 14 percent in ’10.).

Halladay’s velocities on all of those pitches also dropped from ’10 to ’11, and they’re down again in ’12. His cutter has gone from 92.1 mph to 90.5 mph to 88.7 during that time.

Not to pick on Ken, because he does fantastic work and is invaluable to the baseball community, but he ticks off a couple of boxes in Mike Fast’s “what not to do with Pitch F/X” article from a couple years ago at The Hardball Times.

Rosenthal mentions Halladay is using his two-seam fastball less. Fast wrote:

The pitch classifications in the PITCHf/x data, as shown on Brooks Baseball, Texas Leaguers and Fangraphs (not to be confused with the BIS pitch classifications also on Fangraphs), are done by an algorithm developed by Ross Paul at MLB Advanced Media. Ross has made significant updates to this algorithm every year, and one of the most noticeable impacts is that the percentage of pitches classified as two-seam fastballs has increased with each update. This does not mean that the pitchers themselves have changed anything about their pitch selection or the movement on their pitches.

If you want to know if a pitcher has really added a new pitch type, explore his data on a site like Texas Leaguers and see if he’s added a completely new pitch cluster from the previous year. Don’t pay attention to how the pitches are labeled; learn for yourself how the different pitch types behave. When you have mastered that, then you’re ready to identify when a pitcher has added a new pitch.

[Update: I originally said that Rosenthal wrote that Halladay was using his two-seam fastball more often, which was incorrect. I have made the appropriate edits, and apologize for the error.]

Rosenthal also notes a decline in velocity for Halladay. This article by Tristan H. Cockcroft at ESPN notes that fastball velocity is at its lowest in April and gradually increases with each month as temperatures rise.

Those March/April numbers are noticeably low, easily the worst in any single month, and while you might claim that less than a half-mile per hour difference between those April and May numbers is small, remember those numbers were accrued over several hundred thousand fastballs per year, and more than 50,000 per month. That’s one monstrous, whopping sample, and it shows that in “blanket statement” form, there might indeed be something to the dead-arm theory.

Rosenthal gets into Halladay’s pitch selection breakdown. While the shift in percentages may seem significant (13 to 23 percent on the curve, for instance), it’s only four starts. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Halladay’s pitch breakdown is as follows:

  • Fastball: 57
  • Cutter: 206
  • Change-up: 68
  • Curve: 98
  • TOTAL: 429

What if Halladay had an off-night where he wasn’t feeling one of his pitches, so he decided to lean on his curve? That could have been the case on April 16 against the San Francisco Giants, when 31 of Halladay’s 109 pitches (28 percent) were curves as opposed to his previous start, when he went to the curve for 23 of his 109 pitches (21 percent) against the Florida Marlins on April 11.

What if Halladay was facing a lineup that was comprised mostly of hitters who are weak against the curve? The Giants’ lineup featured three consecutive left-handed hitters in the 5-6-7 slots: Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. 14 of Halladay’s 31 curves (45 percent) were thrown to those three hitters exclusively. He threw only three curves against right-handed hitters throughout his entire start.

With a sample of only four starts, the effect one outlier can have is enormous. Sure, it’s possible that Halladay is wearing down after throwing so many innings season-in and season-out. But we must be cognizant of small samples this early in the season and be aware of our human tendency to look for stories where there may not be one.

The Phillies Offense, Visually

By now, everyone is firmly aware that the Phillies haven’t been hitting. They’ve managed two or fewer runs in five of their last six games and, looking at the personnel, it doesn’t portend to get significantly better until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return from the disabled list, which may not come for another two or three months.

Just how bad has the offense been? I compared the Phillies’ wOBA by position to the National League average, then converted the difference into runs.

C .277 .320 -2.1
1B .335 .331 0.2
2B .251 .316 -3.1
3B .219 .308 -4.9
SS .272 .310 -2.1
LF .304 .298 0.3
CF .342 .355 -0.7
RF .305 .332 -1.5

It ain’t pretty. Note that the run values are through roughly 70 plate appearances, so for a fun mental exercise, you can multiply by 10 for a full season’s performance.

If the offense continues to flounder — and we have good reason to expect it should improve slightly, at least — then the Phillies will have a tough remaining five months of the regular season, and they will have to rely even more on their starting rotation.

The positions that stick out are second base and third base. Freddy Galvis, known for his glove and not his bat, has been filling in at second for Chase Utley, someone who twice posted a wOBA north of .400 (2007 and ’09). By comparison, the .250 wOBA of Galvis looks like a steep fall — and it is. Third baseman Placido Polanco has had a terrible start to what may be the end of his career. Now 36 years old, Polanco has had difficulty with just about everything opposing pitchers have thrown at him, and while he has never been known for his plate discipline, he has only drawn one walk in 54 plate appearances.

With the aging roster and the potential escape of soon-to-be free agents Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, 2012 may be the Phillies’ best shot to win another championship. If it’s going to happen, they will need the offense to pick itself up by the bootstraps and score some more runs.

Phillies Bullpen Lacking Punch

With such a brilliant starting rotation comprised mostly of inning-eaters, it’s easy to lose sight of the bullpen. When your starters are regularly getting into the eighth inning, the importance of pitchers like David Herndon and Michael Stutes is diminished. Phillies relievers have compiled the fewest innings in the Majors at just 34.1, roughly 25 percent fewer innings than the average National League bullpen.

When those relievers have been used in games, however, they have lacked punch. As a whole, the Phillies’ bullpen has the second-lowest strikeout rate in the Majors, under 15 percent. In other words, only one in every 6 to 7 batters fails to put the ball in play. When more balls are put in play, there are more chances for hits or misplays by defenders. The Phillies have been fortunate in that regard, as the bullpen has posted a collective .259 BABIP. Only Chad Qualls and David Herndon have a notable ability to induce ground balls, while the rest either have no special batted ball abilities or are fly ball pitchers, which leads one to expect a regression to the mean going forward.

Additionally, their aggregate 2.62 ERA doesn’t match up with any ERA retrodictor.

  • FIP: 3.81
  • xFIP: 4.53
  • SIERA: 4.36
Phillies Bullpen NL Ranks
K% BB% Strand%
16th 8th 8th
3rd 11th 15th 15th
7th 11th 12th 9th 7th 4th

So far, the Phillies have skated by on a slightly higher than average infield fly ball rate (13 percent) and a below-average home run rate (5 percent), but it’s not sustainable. Unless the bullpen does a better job of missing bats as the season progresses, the later innings will become a spot for run-scoring for their opponents. Given how lackluster the offense has been — scoring two our fewer runs in five out of their last six games — runs are at a premium and they can’t afford to give up any more than they already have.