This just in: Roy Halladay is one of a kind.
He’s been baseball’s best pitcher over the past decade and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. With that said, most major league pitchers can probably improve themselves simply by watching Doc work his mastery on the mound like clockwork.
Halladay’s teammate, Cole Hamels, can probably learn a valuable lesson from Roy, too.
What lesson? Well, it has nothing to do with Cole’s release point, him learning a new pitch, or tweaking the precise degree of his arm slot.
It has everything to do with mentality.
In Philadelphia, it’s widely believed that Hamels’ drop-off in performance since the 2008 World Series is due to his lack of focus, composure, and confidence on the pitching slab.
Of course, sports fans love to play psychiatrist.
By nature, we love to try to get into the minds of athletes and try to explain their thought process at a given time. It’s fun, but ultimately impossible to know for sure. Yeah, former-athlete TV and radio analysts, who are paid to “analyze,” are guilty of this too, not just in baseball.
But the fact remains that only one person knows just how irritated Cole Hamels gets when the opposing pitcher reaches base, when a defensive play isn’t made behind him, when he gets “squeezed” by the umpire, or when a nut job fan runs onto the field when he’s three outs away from a complete-game shutout.
And that one person is Cole Hamels.
However, it does indeed seem that Hamels has been hampered by a shortage of mental toughness in handling adversity. The one thing that we know for sure is that he has constantly been victimized by the “big inning” since the start of 2009.
Hamels can look like Steve Carlton in his prime for five innings, but mutate into Bruce Chen during the sixth. Sometimes, Cole’s one bad inning costs him, and his team, a victory.
In 2010, Hamels has suffered through an inning in which he’s given up three or more runs in four of his eight starts…each time after he looked unhittable in the innings prior.
Those numbers are consistent with his 2009 performance, as he gave up at least three runs in an inning in 36 percent of his starts (13 of his 36 starts, including the postseason).
By comparison, Hamels surrendered three or more runs in a particular inning in just 23 percent of his starts during the 2008 season (nine out of his 38 total starts).
Of course, Roy Halladay isn’t nearly as susceptible to the big inning, in part because he’s emotionally indestructible.
Never was Halladay’s toughness more evident than in his May 7 start at Citizens Bank Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. Halladay won the game, 7-2, and improved his record to 6-1 because he rose to the occasion in the face of adversity and bad luck, which could have easily victimized a lesser composed pitcher.
With the Phillies leading 3-0 in the top of the second inning, Philadelphia’s defense committed two errors, including a three-base error on Jayson Werth. Of course, Halladay minimized the damage and allowed just one unearned run to score.
In the fifth inning (protecting a 5-1 lead), Halladay was every bit as much at odds with home plate umpire Mike Everitt’s interpretation of the strike zone as he was with the St. Louis hitters. Halladay uncharacteristically walked two during the inning, including a free pass to Albert Pujols that loaded the bases with two outs. Yet, Halladay struck out Matt Holliday to preserve the Phils’ four-run pad.
Immediately after recording the inning-ending strikeout, Halladay approached home plate umpire Everitt to question why several seemingly good pitches to Pujols and Holliday were called balls. Halladay appeared cool and calm throughout the discussion and, as usual, was in complete command.
Cole Hamels, on the other hand, has been repeatedly undone by instances of poor defense and “close” umpiring calls that don’t go his way. Halladay overcame both those obstacles in a four-inning span on May 7.
Over the past several years, Hamels has reportedly used 47-year-old teammate Jamie Moyer as his personal brochure to The Art of Pitching. Hopefully by now, Hamels has tried to learn a thing or two about mental resolve from Doc Halladay.
Of course, no one can be as good as Roy Halladay.
But perhaps the Phils young southpaw can mature just by discussing with Doc, and studying, his unflappable demeanor on the mound.