Roy Halladay came into the 2013 season with question marks surrounding his performance as a co-ace in the Philadelphia Phillies rotation.
Through two awful, uncharacteristic starts, Doc is leaving fans and analysts with more questions than answers. His 14.73 ERA isn't just unsightly; it's unfathomable.
That is, of course, until you watch and dissect what he's doing or, more aptly, not doing on the mound.
It's early, but Doc's season and career have reached a crossroads. For the Phillies to rebound from the disappointment of an 81-81 campaign in 2012, Halladay's performance is crucial.
As he searches for answers, trends in his performance and approach can be spotted.
Here are four things we have already learned about Roy Halladay in 2013.
1. He doesn't trust his fastball
Percentage of time Roy Halladay has thrown his fastball since arriving in Philly, 2010-present, year-by-year: 37.4, 22.6, 19.4, 17.9. Yikes.
The main concern around Doc has been velocity, but surviving in the 87-89 mph range can happen for a smart, efficient pitcher if he trusts himself to locate that pitch on the corners and down in the zone.
Those numbers, via the indispensable Baseball Info Solutions, show a pitcher who is more comfortable throwing breaking and off-speed stuff, regardless of the count or batter.
Much of Doc's greatness stems from getting ahead in the count. That's something he's failing to do at an alarming rate early in the season.
Last week, Halladay only threw 57.9 percent of his pitches for strikes in Atlanta. In 378 career starts, he's only posted a lower percentage in 15 of those starts. On Monday, he got ahead with first-pitch strikes to only 10 of the 22 hitters faced. No matter how good his secondary stuff is, Halladay must get ahead with his fastball to survive.
When he throws the fastball, he lacks command and falls behind. Thus, he's abandoning the pitch almost entirely, narrowing the options for hitters to focus on.
2. Mental, not physical, issues are the problem
That's the explanation Halladay gave to reporters in Philadelphia on Monday night. If that is the case, the bigger issue might be Doc reverting into the pre-star form he showed in Toronto.
When Halladay lost the strike zone, was unable to retire hitters with any regularity and became mentally lost as a young pitcher, Toronto sent him down to Low-A ball. That's the story fans have heard over and over.
What's less publicized is the guidance provided by the late sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
Halladay mentioned a quote that Dorfman relayed to him when assessing his mental issues on the mound.
“Harvey used to tell me when you try to catch a bird, if you’re flailing at it, trying to grab for it, you’re never going to catch it,” Halladay said to CSN Philly. “You have to hold your hands out and let it land in your hands. It’s the same way with pitching. You have to stick to your routine, stick to your program and let it come to you.”
It's clear that one of the smartest and most cerebral pitchers in baseball is over-thinking his approach on the mound.
3. Opposing batters are no longer uncomfortable in the box
Usually terms like "uncomfortable" are reserved for power pitchers and hard-throwers. For example, Matt Harvey, the young, ascending Mets right-hander, made the Phillies batters look uncomfortable all night long.
In his prime, despite never possessing an overpowering fastball like Randy Johnson or Justin Verlander, Halladay had the ability to make the box batters enter his domain—intimidating for hitters to step in and never a place to feel comfortable.
Due to his inconsistency, lack of confidence and an even further drop in velocity, that feeling is gone.
In the fourth inning of Monday night's game with New York, Matt Harvey, the opposing pitcher, worked a nine-pitch at-bat. To put that in perspective, Halladay has twice thrown complete games with less than 90 total pitches. If Matt Harvey can battle and foul pitches off, real hitters can tee-off.
It took 95 pitches for Doc to get through 3.1 IP in Atlanta. Monday night, 99 were needed to retire 12 batters. At this rate, we'll never see another complete game from Halladay again.
4. An encouraging sign: Halladay is still missing bats at a high rate
As with everything else, this should be prefaced with the following words: Small. Sample. Size.
That being said, Halladay does have one thing going for him early on this season: strikeouts.
In fact, his 12 strikeouts in 7.1 IP is good enough for a rate of 14.73 per nine innings. Never known as a strikeout pitcher—career average of 6.94 per nine—Halladay is generating swings and missing with two strikes using his off-speed stuff.
Can this rate continue? It would be highly, highly unlikely. Even if it came down to around eight or nine Ks per nine, Doc will be in a better position to succeed. For all that will be made about his unsightly ERA, his current xFIP (4.04), which factors in K-rate and league average FB/HR percentage, isn't horrible.
To reclaim success or "re-invent" himself, Halladay might need to strike hitters out at a higher rate. During his first start in Atlanta, 90 percent of his outs were via strikeout. The 10 batters who didn't post a K went 6-for-7 with two home runs.
While the notion of a declining pitcher striking more batters out as age creeps up and velocity ticks down may seem strange, take a look at what Andy Pettitte did last year for the New York Yankees.
Despite the lowest average fastball velocity (87.8) of his long career, Pettitte struck out more batters per inning (8.24) than in any season since 2004. In fact, that number represented the highest strikeout rate of his entire career.
Halladay is in decline, but it doesn't mean he can't generate strikeouts.
What is your level of concern with Roy Halladay?
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