There is very little to say about Roy Halladay that hasn’t been said. Halladay is the staff ace of a staff with three aces, the go-to arm that is all but guaranteed to keep the Phils in the ballgame. Halladay was again masterful last night in a 5-2 victory. Carson Cistulli at FanGraphs wrote a truly amazing piece examining Doc’s performance last night; Halladay was able to transform himself from a masterful contact artist into a dominant strikeout reliever during his performance against a batter that rarely strikes out and with pitches that weren’t strikes.
One of the concerns heading into 2012 was that Doc’s arm was beginning to show signs of aging. I should clarify: One reporter, Ken Rosenthal, speculated that Halladay was having arm issues. Our own Corey Seidman wrote about this at length, noting that there was about a 2 MPH difference from what Halladay was throwing in camp and what he normally throws but that Ruben Amaro was not concern and neither was Halladay. Deadspin reached Halladay for comment: “Poor reporting on the extreme end of poor reporting. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
One of the concerns in this young season, however, has been the actual decline in velocity for Halladay. Across Halladay’s repitoire, he has lost some velocity: -2 MPH for his cutter, -1.9 for his four-seamer, and -0.7. At age 34, is it time to hit the panic button?
Emphatically and enthusiastically, no. To the right, you will see a chart of 2011’s top ten pitchers by fWAR. Column A is the the change in velocity in their most thrown pitch. Column B is the change in the velocity in their most thrown pitch. The red boxes are negative changes in velocity, the green boxes are positive increases in velocity. Only two of the top 10 pitchers by WAR last season have seen increases in velocity for either of his two most thrown pitches. Both of those increases are matched by decreases in their other top pitch.
What to make of this? Well, it is very, very early in the season. I tried to look for patterns, but came up empty. Try breaking the pitchers down “Cold Weather” v. “Warm Weather”. Both the increases have happened with two “Warm Weather” pitchers and the biggest decreases were with “Cold Weather” pitchers, but the information provided isn’t a drastic enough change in a large enough sample to be considered significant. A break down of “Over 30” v. “Under 30” doesn’t give us very many clues either.
Let’s look Halladay specific: Halladay threw 22 innings this year in Spring Training with a 5.73 ERA. In 2010, he threw 18 IP with a 4.00 ERA and in 2011, 21.2 IP with 0.42 ERA. It is possible that in relatively the same amount of ST innings in 2012, Halladay hasn’t stretched his arm out fully. But it is more likely that it is a by-product of the young season. While I can’t explain why so many of the top pitchers are experiencing decreases in velocities from last year, it is mildly comforting to know that Doc’s velocity decrease likely has more to do with a young season and is happening with other top pitchers.
What may be an area of slight concern is Halladay’s peripherals against last year, with a high dose of caution for small sample size. Halladay is down nearly 3 Ks/9 IP early in the season and has been remarkably lucky with a .206 BABIP, which is reflected in his xFIP which sits at 3.45 against his actual ERA at 1.17. Is there cause for concern here? Maybe, but probably not. Halladay posted a career high 8.47 K/9 IP last year which, in itself, is 1.5 Ks more per 9 IP than his career average. What is encourage is Halladay’s increased GB rate (up 3.5%) and his lack of flyballs/no home runs. History is on Doc’s side, and not just his own, but from other very good pitchers in recent years. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs lists quite a few examples of pitchers who have experienced similar early season drops that rebounded to have very good seasons.
The Doctor should be fine. We can now focus our attention again on the offense.