Exposing What Has Changed for Phillies' Roy Halladay During Recent Tailspin

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Exposing What Has Changed for Phillies' Roy Halladay During Recent Tailspin

There's clearly something wrong with Roy Halladay. Your eyes say so, and so do the gory numbers.

The Philadelphia Phillies' veteran right-hander has made two starts so far in 2013, and neither of them have been good. His totals: 7.1 innings pitched, 12 hits, six walks, three home runs, one hit batsman and two wild pitches.

Doc Halladay's ERA after two starts is 14.73. His WHIP is 2.46. His confidence, meanwhile, has seen better days.

“This is a game of failure and I’ve had my fair share,” said Halladay after Monday's beating at the hands of the New York Mets, via CSNPhilly.com. “Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s [rear]. I’ve been a horse’s [rear] for a little while. It’s something I’ve dealt with in the past and I think I can overcome.”

Maybe Halladay's right, but he shouldn't hold out hope of recapturing his old dominant ways from 2010 and 2011. It looks like that ship has sailed.

One way you can tell is by looking at Halladay's velocity. It's been at the center of all the "What's wrong with Doc?" talk both in the early goings this season and most of last season, and the numbers reveal a clear decline that's continuing so far this year.

To the right is a look at Halladay's average sinker (i.e. two-seamer) and cutter velocity from 2010 until now, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.

The precise velocity numbers are going to differ depending on which site you consult. FanGraphs, for example, offers its own PITCHf/x data and data from Baseball Info Solutions. That noted, the trend is the same there: Halladay's velocity is clearly down.

One acceptable objection to this data is that Halladay's in the same boat as every other pitcher this time of year—he's still building arm strength. Once he has it, his velocity will be there.

Fair enough, so let's narrow things down a little and compare Halladay's average sinker and cutter velocity from his first two starts this year to his average sinker and cutter velocity from 2011 and 2012 (there doesn't appear to be any record for his first start in 2010, so we'll skip that year).

Here you can see that Halladay had about the same kind of zip on his sinker and cutter on Monday night against the Mets that he did in his first start last year. That's a revelation that's slightly more encouraging than the above revelation. 

The key word there, however, is "slightly."

The velocity readings here are still down relative to where Halladay was in 2011, a year in which he finished second in the National League Cy Young balloting on the strength of a 19-6 record and a 2.35 ERA. However, you'll notice by comparing the two graphs that his final velocity readings for 2011 really weren't that far off from his early-April velocity readings

You can see by comparing the two graphs that Halladay's velocity didn't budge much throughout the 2012 season either. His player card on BrooksBaseball.net will show that he added some velocity in May, but then he came down with that shoulder injury that sidelined him through mid-July and effectively killed his quest to regain his velocity.

That's both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

It's encouraging because Halladay may have finished last season with respectable velocity readings had he not hurt his shoulder, which means he might be able to ramp up his velocity this year if his shoulder behaves.

It's discouraging, however, because it's impossible to ignore the correlation between Halladay's increasing velocity in May last year and his sudden shoulder injury. The fact that he didn't ramp up his velocity the rest of the year could be taken as a sign that his shoulder can now only handle so much.

The radar gun readings aren't the only thing that makes you wonder about Halladay's shoulder. 

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
It's not really an over-the-top delivery anymore. More of a three-quarters delivery.

If you've been paying attention to the Halladay doom watch, you'll know that low velocity readings aren't the only cause for concern around the campfire. There's also been talk about his arm slot, as Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted after Halladay's first start against the Atlanta Braves.

Here's where I can't resort to fancy graphics to show you what's going on, because, well, the fancy graphics I want to show you don't belong to me. The best I can do is point you in the right direction.

What I want you to do is open up three tabs: One for Halladay's start against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, one for a start he made against the Atlanta Braves last September 22, and one for his start against the Mets on Monday night. All three starts were at Citizens Bank Park, so we're talking about the same mound being in play.

Now I want you to scroll down on each one to the graphs titled "Release Point." If you look at the vertical location, you'll notice that the height of Halladay's release point goes from above six feet, to right about at six feet to below six feet.

If you can see that, then you can see what all the fuss is about. Halladay is throwing from a different arm slot, and it is lower.

One explanation for this is the shoulder injury Halladay suffered last year. It could also be intentional, which is certainly possible seeing as how there was a report from Todd Zolecki of MLB.com in March that Halladay was working to "fix some things with his delivery." 

Regardless of the explanation, we know we're watching a different Doc. He's throwing differently, and he's not throwing hard.

As for deception, well, consider the following. It's a look at how hitters have performed against Halladay's four primary pitches (sinker, cutter, curveball, splitter/split-change) since 2010, including his first two starts this year. If you don't know what ISO is, it stands for Isolated Power and it's essentially a slugging percentage that doesn't take singles into account.

You can see that the slow stuff is working just fine in the early goings. Halladay's only given up a couple hits on his primary off-speed pitches, and it's worth noting that they're responsible for 11 of his 12 strikeouts on the young season.

But the hard stuff? Not so much. A look back at the three homers Halladay has given up can give us a clue as to why that is.

The following links will take you over to MLB.com for the video highlights, but I'm going to provide some screencaps and some commentary along the way.

Image via MLB.com

For starters, take a look at the pitch that Justin Upton launched for a homer off Halladay.

You can see that Erik Kratz set up low and inside for what looked like a cutter meant to freeze Upton for strike three. Instead, watch how the pitch floated over the middle of the plate—"no bueno" territory for any pitcher.

Granted, at least the pitch was a low one. Halladay may have gotten away with it if he was facing a lesser hitter. But he was facing a very good, very hot hitter, and said hitter didn't miss.

Image via MLB.com

Now take a look back at the ball that Evan Gattis sent out of the yard. While watching the video, look where Kratz sets up and then watch where the pitch ends up.

You'll see that Kratz set up low and away for a pitch on the black, but that the pitch Halladay threw was an 88-mile-per-hour heater with virtually no movement that ended up right at Gattis' belt on the inside part of the plate. 

That's the kind of mistake you can make if you're throwing 98 MPH, but not 88. Sure enough, Gattis murdered it.

Image via MLB.com

And lastly, check out the pitch that John Buck hit out of the yard on Monday night. Once again, watch where the catcher set up and where the pitch went.

Humberto Quintero set up on the outside corner to receive the pitch, and Halladay at least got the ball to the right side of the plate. However, he left it a little higher than Buck's knees, and Buck put a very good swing on it for a home run to the opposite field.

So, of the three homers Halladay has given up this year, it's fair to say that all three came on mistake pitches.

That would be forgivable if this was 2010 or 2011, but it's not so forgivable now, because A) we know that Halladay isn't making few mistakes and B) he's clearly not going to be able to get away with the ones he does make.

Halladay's command has been all over the place thus far. He's walked six men in 7.1 innings, and FanGraphs' plate discipline data shows that, not surprisingly, he's throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone (look at Zone%). What's worse is that the three pitches we just looked at show that Halladay's command within the strike zone is lacking, and that, again, he just doesn't have the stuff to get away with mistakes.

Over or under a 4.50 ERA for Roy Halladay this season?

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And that, obviously, is not the Halladay we all used to know and love. The Halladay we all knew and loved had some of the best pinpoint control in the business, not to mention stuff that had a fair amount of zip and absolutely no regard for the laws of physics.

If you're an optimist, you see that Halladay is working with a new release point and that he's still working out the kinks. He didn't get much of a spring training, after all, as he was bothered by an illness and had to labor through some short outings.

But it's nigh impossible to be anything other than realistic about what's going on. Halladay looked like a ruined pitcher last season when he posted a 4.93 ERA in 14 starts after coming back from the disabled list in July, and he looks like even more of a ruined pitcher now.

That's my smarty-pants assessment of what's become of Halladay. My not-so-smarty-pants assessment of him can be summed up with two words that I think everyone will agree with: This sucks.

 

Note: Special thanks to BrooksBaseball.net for the data.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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