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.