For the first two years in Philadelphia, Phillies fans grew to know Roy Halladay as nothing other than a perfectionist with a robot-like work ethic and steely determination that few pitchers in Major League history have possessed. Suffice to say, 2012 was a lot different for Halladay, who struggled through a season wrought with injuries and performance not up to the high standards Halladay has set for himself throughout his career.
Halladay and his fellow pitchers (and catchers) took to the field for the first time last week in Clearwater, Florida, with the rest of the squad joining this past weekend. It's safe to say that Halladay expects 2013 to be a lot different than 2012. Yes, he will turn 36 in May, and yes, unless he goes on some sort of wild tear, the option in his contract will not vest and he will not be under contract for 2014, but those things don't bother the right-hander.
Halladay was the first player to step to the microphone in camp last Wednesday, and he is committed to making this season a bit different.
Reports piled up last spring that Halladay's velocity was down across the board and he just didn't seem to have a feel for his pitches. Many didn't want to believe the reports at first, but as the calendar flipped to May, it was obvious Halladay just did not have his best stuff. He had a 6.11 ERA in the month of May, while opponents hit .312 against him. Halladay went on the disabled list on May 29, with a strain in his lat muscle. He explained to reporters in Clearwater on Wednesday that he had trouble in his lower back heading into spring training last season, which may have led to him over-compensating and causing the injury to the latissimus dorsi, which is more of a shoulder injury than a back injury.
Medical reports aside, Halladay simply wasn't himself. He finished the year with an 11-8 record and 4.49 ERA in 156.1 innings pitched, starting 25 games. I suppose a lot of No. 4 pitchers would be content with those numbers, but Halladay hasn't been a backend-of-the-rotation starter in his career. His job is to be at the forefront of a Major League rotation.
The biggest sign that Halladay wasn't himself (besides the velocity) was his control. His 2.1 BB/9 ratio didn't match his 1.3 number from the year before, or the 1.1 number he posted in 2010. His walk rate had not been that high since 2004. He also wasn't able to finish off hitters the way he had in the past. In 0-2 counts, opponents had a .586 OPS against Halladay. While that number doesn't exactly jump out at you, you'd have to understand that opponents had just a .277 OPS against him in 0-2 counts in 2011. In other words, get down against Halladay in 2011, and you didn't have a chance. Last year, you at least had a chance.
So, what about that velocity? According to Fangraphs, Halladay's fastball averaged 90.6 MPH last year, after being at 92 MPH in 2011 and 92.6 in 2010. Last spring, Halladay was hovering around 89-90 MPH in Grapefruit League action. Suffice to say, many will be watching closely to see if Halladay can ramp it up once game action starts. If he has trouble, the questions will start to come, and if the answers are hazy, it won't be the pain-free spring training Phillies coaches and management desire.
Close watchers of Halladay will also be watching his groundball/flyball rate. Last season, 44.7 percent of balls in play were grounders, a number that Halladay can't repeat and expect to find success. For his career, his average is at 54.4 percent. While Citizens Bank Park isn't exactly the bandbox everyone thinks it is (the numbers have changed significantly since the team moved the fences back), it's still not Petco Park or Safeco Field. (Coincidentally, those parks have been moving some fences this off-season, so maybe we're just going to see more offense across the board in 2013.)
Off the field, there's plenty to be thinking about in regards to Halladay as well. He is in the final year of his three-year, $60-million extension he signed prior to the 2010 campaign. He would need 259 regular season innings to hit the vesting option, which just doesn't seem likely, although 259 innings in the regular season and playoffs would be a nice number, because it would probably mean the Phillies made it deep into the postseason.
That's where Halladay wants to be.
He's made it clear that he doesn't want to go anywhere. He would prefer to retire as a Phillie. That said, this season will be the ultimate wait-and-see approach, in regards to Halladay's future. Any sort of talk, contractually, likely won't come up until after the season, but Halladay's fine with that.
On the field, he is trying to return to his old form. He wants to be the centerpiece of the Phillies rotation once more. The goal for Halladay now is to have a collective amnesia about last season. Even if he does return to his previous form, the Phillies need a lot of things to go right to make the playoffs. That said, they know full well they aren't going very far without a healthy version of their workhorse right-hander.