Don’t write off Roy Halladay just yet

Roy Halladay’s challenge will be to continue to be productive as his fastball velocity declines. Others have done it. Roger Clemens certainly did. So did Tom Seaver. Many others, though, simply did not have the location, movement and array of pitches to continue their careers. Halladay has been so cerebral in his approach that he seems likely to make the transition.

Actually, he has already begun the transition. In 2005, when his fastball averaged 92.6 mph, according to Fangraphs.com, he threw 68.6 percent fastballs. Last season, he threw just 19.4 percent fastballs. That’s the lowest percent of his career, but his 90.6-mph average fastball is also the lowest of his career. He threw more balls, fewer strikes, and his 4.49 ERA was more than a run a game higher than his career average and more than two runs a game higher than his previous two seasons in Philadelphia. (The Phillies also declined defensively.)

A cut fastball he was toying with in 2005 (0.2 percent) is now his No. 1 pitch (41.7 percent in 2012). It averages 88.9 mph, which is barely above average. That’s no problem as long as he can locate it. He has also begun throwing a split-finger pitch the last two years.

The thing we don’t know, the thing we can’t know, is the toll 15 seasons in the Major Leagues and 2,687 innings have taken on his right arm. He’s like his buddy Chris Carpenter in that he was a workhorse, one of those guys who believed that he should still be able to keep his team in the game even when his stuff was nothing special.

Among active pitchers, he’s second innings and third in strikeouts. He has had 10 seasons of at least 219 innings. He led the American League three times and the National League once. His 156.1 innings last season was notable because he’d averaged 236 innings in the previous six.

Can the Phillies make the playoffs without Roy Halladay performing like a top-of-the-rotation starter? The automatic answer is that they can’t.

But that’s silly talk. There are too many moving parts to put it all on one guy. If Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick have big seasons, if Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can still perform at a high level and if an overhauled bullpen is as good as the Phillies think it might be, then this team certainly is good enough to win.

They seem to enjoy their underdog status. Let the Nationals and Braves carry the burden of expectations into the season. The Phillies still have the core of the teams that won five straight division championships and went to the World Series twice. During those years, they prided themselves on competing hard every single day. Maybe the Nationals and Braves will make the NL East a two-team race. But it would be silly to overlook the Phillies. Or to count Roy Halladay out.

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