Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Indians may have reminded Roy Halladay that he is different now

Roy Halladay went back to his cutter against a tough Indians team. The results were not pretty.

The Indians may have reminded Roy Halladay that he is different now

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Roy Halladay is a much different pitcher than he was two years ago, and anybody who refuses to admit it is simply erring on the side of his heart than his rational mind. That's fine, by the way. It's what fandom is all about. I just don't want to see you delude yourself into a serenity-now breakdown when it is September and you are still seeing what you have seen thus far: a couple of brutal starts followed by a couple of solid starts followed by a couple of brutal starts and so on. Nobody came into 2013 thinking that we should bury Roy Halladay. He is still capable enough of being a good No. 4 starter. But his stuff simply does not work like it used to, and he needs to pitch with that in mind. I'm not sure that he did that last night. Last night, I think we might have seen a pitcher who is still convinced that he can dominate any lineup that he faces, even if that lineup is one that is built to destroy mediocre stuff. The Indians are a lot like the Braves in that they can destroy fastballs. Only Atlanta has more home runs this season than the Indians' 36. Only the Athletics have scored more runs. Cleveland leads the majors in slugging percentage (.465) and OPS+ (122). But rather than stick with a formula that had worked for him his previous three starts, pitching off a sinker that had been a groundball machine, Halladay went back to leaning on his cutter, and the results were abysmal.

Here's the way I think Halladay's mind works.

Against the Braves in his first start of the season, he felt like he pitched scared. He was trying to be too fine. He knew the Braves were a team that was built to destroy fastballs, and he knew that his hard stuff was not as hard or as sharp as it used to be. So he relied heavily on his curveball and changeup and leaned more on his cutter than his sinker. Afterward, he was incredibly frustrated with himself, and he vowed not to pitch scared again.

Halladay gained more confidence in his hard stuff as he has success with it. You can see the ratios of how often he used his sinker versus his cutter and his fastball versus his offspeed stuff in the table below. He entered last night's game against the Indians convinced that he was back where he needed to be. Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate, he was riding three strong starts, and he tried to pitch the Indians like the old Roy Halladay would. Except the old Roy Halladay's sinker and cutter do not work like they used to. Particularly the cutter. And all it took was a good fastball hitting team to remind us all of that fact. Every ball the Indians put into play was hit hard. Halladay was charged with eight runs, but it easily could have been 10 or 12 or even more. Every ball was scalded.

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According to pitch Fx data as recorded by BrooksBaseball.net, opponents are hitting .360 with an .800 slugging percentage against Halladay's cutter this year. Two of the home runs he allowed yesterday were on cutters.

It is understandable why Halladay keeps going back to the cutter. He gets more swings and misses on it than his sinker. He commands it better. And because he is struggling with the command of his sinker, he feels more comfortable pitching inside to lefties with his cutter, since the sinker is prone to run back over the plate against them.

But the swings of the hitters are telling us that the cutter isn't moving like it used to. Remember, Halladay developed the cutter after starting his career with a straight four seamer that hitters used to crush. Hitters might be seeing a pitch that looks more like that four seamer than Halladay's cutter. Because they are crushing it.

Thing is, I think we've seen plenty of evidence that Halladay can be a capable pitcher without such a heavy reliance on the cutter. His sinker, unlike his cutter, has been a groundball machine. He has allowed just eight fly balls or line drives with his sinker compared with 19 groundballs His cutter: 12 fly balls/line drives compared with eight groundballs. Again, he is not controling the sinker as well: 67 balls versus 38 called strikes, compared with 39/22 with the cutter. But hitters also are not pouncing on the sinker like they are the cutter.

The Roy Halladay we saw in his three starts prior to the one against the Indians was one who was comfortable pounding the plate with sinkers and mixing his cutter in. Maybe that's because he knew teams like the Pirates and Marlins are not as capable of crushing a sinker as teams like the Braves and the Indians. But maybe he is passed the point where he can dictate what a good team does against him, and his best course of action is to give him his best stuff and then put his faith in defense and lady luck. That's not a formula that will win a Cy Young. But it might be one that maximizes Halladay's stuff to the point where the Phillies get a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter out of him.

Game Sinker/Cutter Hard/Soft Cutter % Hard %
L - CLE, 14-2 24/30 54/22 .555 .711
L - PIT, 5-3 40/15 55/40 .273 .579
W - STL, 8-2 41/37 78/31 .474 .716
W - MIA, 2-1 27/19 46/40 .413 .535
L - NYM, 7-2 39/16 55/44 .291 .556
L - ATL, 9-2 20/27 47/47 .575 .500
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