For Halladay, The Problem Is Everything

Roy Halladay is not the only problem for the 2013 Phillies. He may not even be the biggest problem. But he’s the “keystone” problem — the problem which, if it proves unsolvable, renders all of their other problems moot. So we’ve watched each of his first two starts with obsessive attention to detail, and we’ll watch each of his subsequent starts, however many he gets, with increasing desperation, hoping for even the briefest flash of something approaching Doc-ness. In his first start, we had something — he struck out 9 of the 19 batters he faced on his way to surrendering five earned runs, a truly bizarre set of outcomes. Last night? Nothing so notable. Just hard hit balls and sadness.

After that first start, with the weird contrast of missing bats and, uh, not missing bats, one could have held out hope for a specific diagnosis, which would have at least been comforting. Many have tried to make one, too. Aaron Boone suggested, on the ESPN telecast of last night’s game, that Halladay was overthrowing his pitches, sacrificing his ability to locate them to regain the velocity he may simply no longer have. After watching last night’s start, though, it’s pretty obvious that trying to isolate a problem is futile. Everything is in disarray for Halladay right now.

Halladay has already walked 6 hitters through his first 2 starts. But it’s not just the walks, nor even the balls, that are the problem; every element of his command is gone. Late last season, when it was clear that his DL stint had not solved his problems, I posted a comparison of his cutter and sinker locations, to left-handed batters and right-handed batters respectively, between 2011 and 2012:

When the Halladay of yore is on the bump, he blasts left-handed hitters low and inside with his cutter, letting it break in on them and force a whiff or weak contact. He does the same, in the opposite direction, against right-handed hitters with his sinker. We’re not even looking at his use of the changeup and curve here, both plus offerings in their own right, but it’s the bread and butter of the old Roy Halladay. And in 2012, as you can see above, he was unable to do either. Early in 2013, it’s not looking much better:

Even when he gets it over the plate, Doc misses his spots, often leaving it in a good spot to hit. Previously he could get away with this, but now he misses way more often, and what he does throw is just flat. It’s too early in the season to pull break data from pitch f/x, and it’s a little difficult to draw conclusions from those numbers anyway, but it’s pretty clear that his repertoire does not have the bite that it used to. Groundballs used to account for more than half of Halladay’s batted balls; so far in 2013, they’ve accounted for only about 40%. The culprit for this could be release point. Last night, Paul tweeted this graph from Brooks Baseball:

It shows the release point for all of Halladay’s pitches since 2007. It appears to indicate that Halladay’s arm slot is substantially lower than even 2012. Rich Dubee, who has a tendency to make statements that fly in the face of simple observable truths, claims otherwise, but it’s tough to dismiss that as a simple calibration issue. Here’s a look at the averages:

I haven’t even mentioned his velocity yet, probably the most-mentioned issue entering the season. And for all the talk about him “overthrowing,” that hasn’t gotten better either:

Some people, myself included, have speculated that it’s just a new learning curve for Doc. He has a new, less potent repertoire, and he has to learn the best ways to deploy it. If this were true, it would be a simple race against time for Halladay — can he rework his pitching style to fit his new arsenal quickly enough to help the Phillies stay in contention? But the early returns (and they are early; I don’t mean to lose sight of the fact that this is only 2 regular season starts we’re talking about) indicate a much bigger problem. It may be that there are no stylistic tweaks or innovations of approach that Halladay can make to establish a new level of effectiveness. His mechanics, command, and stuff are all totally out of sorts right now. This isn’t a cheap fix-me-up condo that Roy has inherited, salvageable with some hard work and investment. The building has been torn down to the rebar, and nothing short of a complete rebuild will make it habitable again.

That’s something that probably can’t happen in the context of regular season starts at the major league level, and, short of some phantom DL stint, that may be the only outlet available to the Phillies right now. If so, don’t spend time fretting over the team’s other issues. They’re not likely to matter.

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11 comments

  1. Pencilfish

    April 09, 2013 11:47 AM

    You are suggesting something along the lines of sending him to single-A (like in 2000) to completely re-work his pitching style?

  2. Ryan Sommers

    April 09, 2013 11:57 AM

    Well like I said I don’t see how that’s feasible. Or if it would even be fruitful. For right now they kind of have to keep rolling him out there and learn to love the pain.

  3. Phillie697

    April 09, 2013 12:43 PM

    Ryan wrote in a style eerily reminiscent of Baumann… Did MB hack RS’s account?

  4. Pencilfish

    April 09, 2013 12:53 PM

    It was obviously fruitful in 2000.

    It is becoming quite evident Halladay will look for a new contract in 2014. He could maximize his next contract by re-working his pitching style in the minors and come back up later this year. Trying to re-learn pitching at the major league level means his chance of landing a ML contract in 2014 is greatly diminished, which puts him in the minors next ST anyway, unless he retires. Maybe not feasible, but certainly logical to do it.

    I certainly hope RAJ and Halladay find a way to do this. It’s painful to watch him pitch now, knowing what he could do as recently as early 2012.

  5. joecatz

    April 09, 2013 01:16 PM

    You guys realize that to send roy to the minors without a DL stint, youd have to expose him to irrevocable waivers right?

    Means all 25 teams would have to not claim him. Could happen, but doubt it.

    Aint happening without a DL stint.

  6. Nehemiah

    April 09, 2013 03:25 PM

    sure, he could work on it in the minors and try to land a new contract next year, but unless he is resigning with the phils, why would they get onboard with that?

    An interesting idea though would be to trade him to someone contingent on that plan. let said other team put him in the minors and rework his style and than they can sign him.

  7. Pencilfish

    April 09, 2013 03:35 PM

    joecatz,

    no, I did not realize it, but I checked, and you are right. Perhaps that’s the “phantom DL stint” Ryan referred to.

  8. LTG

    April 09, 2013 03:36 PM

    Nehemiah,

    I suspect the thought is that Halladay would do what Myers did in 2008. He wouldn’t be down all season, but for a brief period. And, if we’re lucky, he’ll rediscover his command and become a real trading chip.

  9. Ryan Sommers

    April 09, 2013 06:16 PM

    Yeah by not feasible I meant it’s hard to get him down there in the first place, and if they do do that he might just decide to retire. But we’re being very speculative at this point obviously.

  10. Phillie697

    April 10, 2013 09:51 AM

    Anytime the fans start talking about possibly trading someone, rest assured the astute GMs of MLB would want nothing to do which that player. Why do people here continue to act like other teams are dumb? They have TV, they saw Halladay’s ST and the last two games too.

  11. Kevin

    April 10, 2013 10:27 AM

    Spot on Phillie697. I responded last night elsewhere to somebody saying something like “and people want to trade Cliff Lee”. Yup! If he keeps pitching great he could bring a prospect haul before he follows in Halladay’s footsteps in a year or two.

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