Roy Halladay will pitch at least 180 innings with an ERA+ of 120 or better.
A year ago, this would’ve been included in a list of “Guaranteed Outcomes for 2012.” Then everything got dumb and sad. In this scary, unfamiliar new world of the Dumb And Sad, where the Phillies are likely to be scrabbling for a second wild card spot, and Roy Halladay has spent the spring developing a piece of J.A. Happ performance art, this prediction now qualifies as bold. So bold, in fact, that I can’t say I have much in the way of supporting evidence for it. But allow me to plead with the mighty BaseBa’al for a moment.
By ERA, the 2012 season was the worst of Halladay’s career since his abortive 2000 season, which ended in him being sent to Bhutan to train with the League of Shadows and rebuild his delivery or whatever. The culprit was a strained right shoulder. While the rotator cuff itself was not implicated, a shoulder injury for a pitcher, especially one of Halladay’s age, can have disastrous consequences for the pitcher’s release point, velocity, and command, even more so than the dreaded elbow injury.
The results were hard to watch. Halladay, ever the strictest curator of his craft, struggled to adjust his pitching to make the best use of his flatter, slower repertoire. The struggles have persisted this spring. It’s possible to root around his 156 and 1/3rd innings in 2012 for some bits of good news. For one thing, his peripherals were, for the most part, not unprecedented given his career. As I wrote early last season, there was a time when Halladay was contributing much different inputs than those we’ve come to know during his Phillies stint, and achieving basically the same results.
So while his strikeout rate (20.4%) dipped last year, it was still on the high end for his career. His walk rate (5.6%) inflated, but it was not the highest he had ever posted, nor one that totally precludes success for a pitcher (in fact, it was still well below league average). And his home run rate — well, OK, that one was his highest since 2000, but let’s put that aside for now, because screw you, I’m trying to be optimistic. In fact, that’s likely linked to his groundball rate (44.7%), the lowest of his career, since without his best velocity and command he’s unable to induce — wait, no, screw you, I’m trying to be optimistic. The point is, the various flavors of ERA estimators all seem to concur that that a pitcher with Halladay’s profile could reasonably expect an ERA in the 3.60 to 3.70 range. And hey, who’s to say he can’t make a mild improvement on one this season, or get some batted ball or left-on-base luck, and bump that down to 3.40, which could put him in line for my prediction above. Not classic Roy Halladay, but still a perfectly good pitcher.
If you didn’t find this half-hearted appeal to peripherals convincing, you’re not alone. I don’t either. It would be disingenuous to sit around and scratch our heads about Halladay’s FIP when watching him very obviously grind away without his old arsenal. But in the spirit of bold predictions, I’m making mine in complete defiance of the available evidence. Because, honestly, we really need this. If the 2013 season shapes up to be as grim as a lot of us think it could (more on that tomorrow), and if the future implications of Matt Gelb’s piece on the front office are fully realized, then we’re going to have to spend the new season enjoying baseball because it’s baseball, and for the individual performances that make for such great spectacle. Which is fine. The Phillies have been bad and mediocre before. We’ve never stopped watching.
But if Roy Halladay — hall-of-famer, legendary baseball perfectionist, early-rising workaholic, pitching-with-the-cheat-codes-on, invincible Roy Halladay — is broken, that might just be a little too much to take.