How Much Does Doc Miss Chooch?

Utley got off on the right foot in the Phillies loss. (AP)

Carlos Ruiz has guided Roy Halladay through many memorable games. Is his absence hurting the Good Doctor? (AP)

Everyone’s got a theory for what’s wrong with Roy Halladay.

The prevailing argument is Halladay is a victim of the unrelenting perpetual forward motion of time, and the effect it has on the body. That, physically, he is no longer the person he once was.

Rich Dubee and Halladay himself have come up with a bevy of excuses as to why Doc has not been himself. Everything from a wet mound to a stomach virus has been thrown out there as a reason for the lack in results. Just yesterday, Dubee pinned Halladay’s shaky start on Wednesday on a lower arm slot.

Whatever ails the once preeminent pitcher, one thing is clear: He is struggling mightily to adapt to his new-found deficiencies. What once was considered a strength for Halladay–the ability to think ahead of hitters–is now something he is lacking.

Everyone can see that Halladay has lost a few ticks on his velocity, yet he continues to pitch with the same strategy as the guy who once could touch 94 on the radar gun. Maybe it’s sheer stubbornness. But without his dominant fastball, he seems lost.

Watching Doc scuffle as he relearns how to pitch, it’s impossible not to wonder how much the absence of Carlos Ruiz is hurting him right now.

In the past, Halladay has been effusive about just how much Ruiz means to him. Following his perfect game in 2010, he was quick to credit the Panamanian catcher for the performance. He did so again when he threw a no hitter in the NLDS later that year. After that season, Halladay even went as far as presenting Ruiz with a replica of the Cy Young award he won. And, of course, there was the MLB 2K commercial Halladay filmed, playing up how much trust he put in Chooch.

Along with Hallday’s own word, the numbers also suggest Doc performs better when Chooch is behind the dish, calling the shots.

Since 2010, Halladay has started 20 games in which Ruiz either didn’t start, or was removed before the fifth inning, when a game becomes official. In those games, Doc has gone 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA. He’s allowed an average of 7.15 hits, while walking 1.35 hitters and striking out 6.4. Those numbers don’t seem bad (This is Roy Halladay we’re talking about, after all). But compared to contests where Doc and Ruiz have been battery mates for the length of the game, they’re quite telling. Halladay has allowed nearly a half run less (2.87 ERA) while going 41-17 when paired with Ruiz. Remarkably, his other statistics have remained about the same (6.44 hits, 1.08 walks and 6.37 strikeouts per start). Only the results have changed. Over the course of their partnership, Ruiz has saved Doc about a half run per game and added about 150 points to his winning percentage.

If Doc were a Jujitsu master, Ruiz would be his wise sensei.

Now, as Halladay faces his biggest challenge as a professional since he was sent to Single-A Dunedin by the Blue Jays in 2001, he is without his most-trusted ally. The frustration in not having Chooch there to guide him as he tries to reinvent who he is as a pitcher must be crushing. The usually reserved Halladay let some of that frustration slip through following his start in Atlanta.

According to Matt Gelb of the Inquirer, Halladay had this to say about Erik Kratz–Ruiz’s stand-in while he serves his suspension–regarding the home run he allowed to Justin Upton in the first: “We went in with a low target, which isn’t what we wanted to do. You’re not going to get him out there. What I wanted to do wasn’t executed.” Halladay also claimed the pitch was “half-hearted.”

The finger-pointing here is concerning because it is so uncharacteristic of Halladay. But it also speaks volumes about how disheartened he is not having Chooch calling his pitches. He’s gone from heaping praise on his battery mate to questioning pitch selection and location.

Maybe it was a comment driven by emotion. Maybe Halladay regretted it after the fact. But the candidness there, the willingness to even suggest there’s an issue between he and his catcher says a lot about Doc’s frame of mind. It’s apparent that he needs Chooch there to lead the way, to recognize his strengths and weaknesses and help him navigate his way through uncharted waters. It won’t help Doc physically, but it’ll pay off in dividends for his mental game.

For now, he can only keep trotting out to the mound, trying to figure things out on his own. Ruiz has 22 games left on his suspension.

I’m betting those 22 games will be the longest Halladay has ever experienced.


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