Back in December, the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay and promptly signed him to a three year, $60 million dollar contract. They were willing to make the commitment to the 32-year-old ace because of his track record as a dominant pitcher who takes pride in spending as much time on the mound as some of the greats from an earlier era.
The first eight months of Halladay’s tenure with the Phillies have only confirmed his reputation as an old-school workhorse.
In 23 starts this year, Halladay has thrown a major league leading 178 innings (that’s an average of 7.2 innings per start). As already highlighted, this is not unusual for the Phillies ace. He led the majors in innings pitched in 2009, was second in 2008, and third in 2007.
It’s where he could be headed by season’s end that is a bit frightening.
With 54 games remaining, Roy should take the mound 11 more times before the end of the regular season. Based on his average innings pitched, this could add 85 more innings to his season total. That would bring his total innings pitched for the regular season to 263 (very likely the highest total in majors yet again).
How would that compare to the highest season totals of his career?
It would be the second highest number of innings he has pitched in his 12 years as a professional. In 2003, Roy tossed a whopping 266 innings on his way to a 22-win season and the Cy Young Award.
What followed that glorious season is what may hold the most relevance for his current team. The 2004 season saw Halladay experience physical breakdowns. He only managed 133 innings while encountering two stints on the disabled list with shoulder problems.
Back in the present day, the Phillies are starting to look like a team capable of making another deep playoff run. When they finally overcome the rash of injuries that have plagued them this summer, it would be hard to envision them not reaching the World Series in a league whose biggest threats are the Braves, Giants, and Reds.
For Roy Halladay, a World Series trip could mean an extra five to seven starts (one or two in a division series, two in the NLCS, two to three in the World Series). If we use a conservative estimate of seven innings per start, this would result in an extra 35-49 innings that were never a factor for Halladay as his former Blue Jay teams began their offseasons well before October each year.
If you’ve been working ahead, these added postseason innings would leave the big fella with a total of somewhere between 298 and 312 innings for the 2010 season.
To put these numbers into perspective, it has been 30 years since a major league pitcher registered 300 innings (Here’s a hint: he also wore Phillies pinstripes, but was a Cy-Young winning leftie for the 1980 World Series champs).
Clearly, we are witnessing a season that would be extraordinary for a pitcher working in the era of conservative workloads for starters. However, one needs to look no further than the Phillies current third starter for a cautionary tale.
In 2008, Cole Hamels befuddled opposing hitters on his way to a World Series MVP, and a career-high 262.1 innings. This total was 79 innings more than he had ever thrown in a season, and the resulting hangover from this overtime schedule led to a very disappointing encore performance. In 2009, Hamels posted the worst record (10-11) and ERA (4.32) of his five-year Major League career. Moreover, his 7.58 playoff ERA could be viewed as one of the main reasons the Phillies did not repeat as World Champs.
So, while the Phillies acquired Roy Halladay for his dependability, they also chose him over Cliff Lee because they knew he would be topping their rotation for at least another three years.
The Phillies long-term commitment to Halladay necessitates that they do not treat him like a three-month rental of the CC Sabathia variety. If you remember, the Milwaukee Brewers called on Sabathia for long innings and short rest throughout the stretch run of the 2008 season because they knew he was a summer rental whose arm would soon be the property of someone else (as long as it was still attached to his body).
Although Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee are surely not looking for advice in the handling of their pitching staff, I will provide it anyway.
When it comes to Roy Halladay, respect him as an ace and as one of the best in the business, but don’t be so quick defer to his desire to close out games. The perfect example of this tendency was last week’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Phillies held a 7-0 lead going into the ninth, and Halladay’s pitch count was already in the triple digits. While another complete game and shutout would have been great for Halladay‘s resume, the win was no longer in doubt and there was an opportunity to save his arm from throwing another inning (and the 10 extra pitches that brought his total for the night to 114).
The Phillies bullpen can be a scary proposition sometimes, but this was a lead that even Danys Baez or David Herndon couldn’t give away.
The 2010 Phillies are clearly built to win now, and that is exactly what Phillies fans want. Fans can also be excited about having Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels for at least another year. The health and effectiveness of this trio could hinge on whether or not they are handled intelligently.
To some extent, the current season’s hay is in the barn when it comes to taking care of Halladay’s golden right arm, but Phillies fans can still hope that Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee find ways to ease the workload of the big guy when the opportunities arise during the season‘s final three months. Their 2011 and 2012 plans could very much depend on it.