What has happened to Phillies ace Roy Halladay – many baseball fans, including much of the city of Philadelphia, have been asking themselves this very question. While many assumed his troublesome spring would not carry over into the regular season, Halladay’s first two starts this season were disastrous, allowing five earned runs in 3.1 innings pitched in his first start in Atlanta followed by giving up seven runs in his home debut against the Mets.
The two-time Cy Young award winner and eight-time All-Star currently sports a 14.73 ERA after his first two starts of 2013, and with over 2,650 career innings on his now 35-year-old arm, questions exist if his days as a superstar pitcher are now coming to an end. After reports of declining velocity and his abnormally poor results, I wanted to scout his third start of the season Sunday against the Miami Marlins to see what is currently ailing Doc Halladay.
Beginning the season with two woeful starts, if there was ever an opportunity to rebound it would be against the struggling Marlins lineup without Giancarlo Stanton in their pitcher-friendly home ballpark. Halladay was much more successful Sunday afternoon, allowing only one run on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts over eight innings pitched. He threw 86 total pitches, 57 for strikes, and by my count, 33 of which were either 2-seam or cut fastballs (38.3%), and the remaining 53 pitches were off-speed, either his splitter, curveball, or changeup. I assume he threw such a large percentage of off-speed pitches to take advantage of the young and overaggressive Marlins lineup, but it was surprising to see Halladay throw so few fastballs.
Although a pleasant box score, before getting overly excited by these results, one must temper this exuberance as there are still plenty of warning signs from his start as well. The first noticeable thing is his lost fastball velocity, as Halladay averaged only 89.4mph, topping out at 91.3mph, on his 2-seam fastball, which is down almost two miles an hour from last season’s average of 91.1mph. (Thanks BrooksBaseball.net)
Secondly, Halladay struggled to get ahead in the count, only throwing 15 of 29 (51.7%) first pitch strikes, which forced him to pitch from behind much of the game. This did not come back to haunt Halladay due to the weak hitting Marlins lineup, but as he pitches against stronger competition, he must throw more strikes or he will struggle like he did in his first two starts. Finally, his fastball command needs to improve as he threw only 21 of 33 (63.6%) for strikes, a mediocre number and unusually low for a pitcher with such excellent control such as Halladay.
Conversely, the Phillies and Roy Halladay should find reasons for optimism from Sunday’s start as well. After scuffling early with his command, Halladay threw first pitch strikes to 9 of the final 13 (69.2%) batters he faced and found his groove in the 4th inning, needing only 50 pitches over his final five innings. Finally, as the cliché goes, results matter, and allowing only five hits, one walk, and inducing five pure swings-and-misses, the Marlins hitters are telling you he still has quality major league stuff.
I am glad I took the opportunity to chart Halladay’s start Sunday, as I was surprised by what I saw from the two-time Cy Young award winner: Halladay has long been known for his patented, clean throwing motion and impeccable command, but instead I was treated to a more laborious delivery, mediocre fastball control, and stuff lacking the same amazing movement within the strike zone it had a few seasons ago. His positive results mask what was a decent outing against a poor major league lineup.
However, if Halladay can continue to throw strikes early in the count to set up his quality off-speed stuff, as he did in the middle innings, he should continue to be successful and at times, dominant. Perhaps his stuff has regressed enough to no longer properly call him an Ace, but his smarts, moxie, and stuff should continue to allow him to be one of the best #2 or #3 starters in the National League.