Why 89 is a deceiving number

Phillies ace Roy Halladay turns 35 in May. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — So Roy Halladay admitted it. You caught him. He's throwing in the high 80s this spring. He won't diss the radar guns that sit behind home plate because they typically track accurate readings.

But he will take issue with the notion that mid-March velocity predicates future problems.

"I don’t pay attention to that," Halladay said. "The older you get, the more you throw, the longer it takes you to get yourself going. When I came up I threw 98. Last year I was throwing 92, 93. It’s not unusual."

Halladay's notion that it takes longer to gain arm strength is not only his. Just about every baseball person will say, "Yes." But do the numbers support it?

Here, via MLB's Pitch F/X data, are Halladay's average fastball velocities month-by-month from 2011:

Four-seam 90.6 91.8 91.6 91.0 91.7 91.3 91.3
Sinker 91.4 92.2 92.4 91.8 92.0 92.1 91.9
Cutter 90.6 91.6 91.4 90.6 90.0 90.1 90.6

And from month-by-month average velocities from 2010:

Four-seam 92.5 92.0 92.0 91.9 91.9 91.8 92.0
Sinker 92.5 92.4 92.5 93.0 92.6 92.5 92.6
Cutter 91.4 91.0 91.1 91.4 91.1 90.9 91.1

What we find is that Halladay began his Phillies career in April 2010 with markedly higher velocity than a year later in 2011. (Wanting to make a good impression?) But ultimately, the average velocity on all three fastballs did not differ greatly from 2010 to 2011.

Yes, he was tick slower on each pitch, but that also implies that slower pitches mean less success. Halladay, of course, is best when his location is precise. In 2011, he allowed fewer hits and home runs per nine innings; he struck out more per nine innings; and finished with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball. All with (slightly) lower speeds on his fastballs.

Is it possible Halladay is dealing with a tired or injured right arm? Sure. He turns 35 in May and has pitched at least 220 innings in each of the last six years.

But don't let an 89 m.p.h. fastball on March 14 matter too much.

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