Roy Halladay Doesn’t Answer the Question

There are, I imagine, several questions one could ask about Roy Halladay. Does he eat breakfast? does he eat granola for breakfast? Which is his favorite breakfast granola? But, regarding Halladay as a baseball pitcher, there is one particularly pressing question: will he ever get back to being what he was? It would’ve been nearly impossible for Halladay to conclusively answer that question on Wednesday in Atlanta, and indeed, in the aftermath of Halladay’s start, the question remains unanswered, conclusively.

The good news, if you missed it: Halladay finished with nine strikeouts. The bad news, if you missed it: the rest. Halladay allowed five runs in 3.1 innings, and he became the first pitcher in recorded baseball history to record nine strikeouts in so brief an outing. Of course, we know better than to look at innings thrown — more meaningful is the number of batters faced, and in that regard Halladay’s start was not unprecedented. Four times before, pitchers have struck out nine of 15 batters, while Halladay faced 19 Braves. Dan Osinski once struck out ten of 16 batters. Just last April, Marco Estrada struck out nine of 17 batters. But anyway, this isn’t about establishing an historical context — this is about Halladay, and what he is, and what just happened.

Halladay issued three walks. He threw just 55 of 95 pitches for strikes, and this is a guy who’s long been among the game’s premier command starting pitchers. Only three times since 2002 has Halladay finished a game with a lower strike rate. Never, during the PITCHf/x era, has Halladay finished a start with a lower zone rate. Yet never, since 2002, has Halladay finished a game with a lower contact rate. Halladay was simultaneously exploitable and unhittable, so it’s unclear just how encouraged or discouraged a Phillies fan ought to be in the aftermath.

One of the explanations for Halladay’s outing is that he leaned heavily on his secondary stuff. Of Halladay’s 95 pitches, just 48 were fastballs or cutters, yielding a 50.5% rate. Again looking at the PITCHf/x era, that’s Halladay’s lowest rate of thrown heaters. Braves hitters whiffed three times against Halladay’s cutter, but they whiffed 11 times against his curve or split. Those were the putaway pitches, while it was mostly Halladay’s faster stuff that was getting him in trouble.

Not that it was all that fast. This has been another Halladay storyline, and of course we have to look at his pitch velocity. Here are Halladay’s average velocities from his first starts of the last few seasons:

1st Start In Fastball Cutter
2009 92.6 90.9
2010 92.2 91.2
2011 90.5 90.3
2012 90.2 89.1
2013 89.6 88.3

As Halladay has gradually lost some steam off his fastballs, he’s gone more and more often to his slower weapons. Call it whatever you want — declining faith in his fastballs, intelligent pitching, both, or neither. Wednesday, if Halladay loved his fastballs, he didn’t show it, as half the time he threw something else. Those other pitches are more difficult for batters to hit, but they’re also more difficult to locate as precisely as Halladay is used to.

Now, before we proceed any more, we have to acknowledge that, on Wednesday in Atlanta, it was raining. We don’t know what effect this might have had, and it’s easy to see how wet conditions could reduce a pitcher’s effectiveness, but on the other hand, Paul Maholm walked one guy and didn’t allow any runs while striking out six. Better than two-thirds of his pitches were strikes. Not everyone will respond to rain in the same way, but it doesn’t look like the environment is much of an excuse for what happened to Halladay before he got yanked.

The big thing that stands out to me: Halladay dropped his arm down. Following are two screenshots that don’t look too dissimilar — one from a Halladay start in Atlanta a year ago, and one from Wednesday night. The top one is the older one.

halladayatl2012

halladayatl2013

It’s hard to spot a difference there. But thanks to Texas Leaguers, let’s look at a release-point .gif. The first group shown is Halladay’s last start in Atlanta in 2012. The second group shown is Halladay’s last start anywhere in 2012. The third group shown is Halladay’s start on Wednesday.

HalladayRelease

That’s noticeable. In fact, from Chip Caray and Joe Simpson even before Halladay started pitching in the first:

“You and I were just watching him warm up, Chip, and his arm slot’s very different, much lower than we’re accustomed to seeing.”

One reason for a lowered arm angle is some sort of injury. Another reason for a lowered arm angle is fatigue. A third reason for a lowered arm angle is a deliberate adjustment on the pitcher’s part, and we know Halladay has been working on his mechanics. We don’t know how much this means — we just know something was up, such that Halladay was releasing the ball lower than he used to.

That doesn’t automatically explain the subsequent events. It could just be a factor. So how does one pitch ineffectively while striking out nine batters in fewer than four innings, anyway? The answer is what you’d expect: some bad luck, some missed location. A few Halladay pitch .gifs:

HalladayFrancisco.gif.opt

This is a Juan Francisco RBI single. Halladay didn’t do anything wrong — he hit his spot on the inside edge with a 1-and-1 cutter. Sometimes hitters get hits on pitcher’s pitches. Even if you execute your gameplan perfectly, you can still get punished.

HalladaySimmons1.gif.opt

Here’s Halladay getting a swing and miss, and a strikeout, on a curveball that didn’t end up where it was supposed to. He missed by the entire width of the plate, and then some, but the result was still a really good pitch, because there were two strikes and Halladay kept the ball down.

HalladaySimmons2.gif.opt

Here’s a brilliant full-count changeup. You don’t strike out nine batters if you’re missing your spots with everything. This pitch is right on the corner, too close to take but too terrific to hit and hit well. Generally, after a bad outing, people will say a pitcher wasn’t hitting his spots, but that doesn’t mean the pitcher never hit his spots. This was classic Roy Halladay — except, I guess, for the full-count part. The first two pitches of this at-bat were balls well inside.

HalladayUpton.gif.opt

Here’s Halladay giving up his first home run, on a fastball. Halladay would say later he should’ve thrown a different pitch, but this pitch isn’t *bad* — though he missed over the middle of the plate, the ball was located at Justin Upton‘s knees. This is a case, I think, of both missed location and bad luck, since that isn’t an easy pitch to drive out to the opposite field. The ball squeaked over the fence, but they all count the same. Halladay’s explanation was that he should’ve thrown something high, to set Upton up for the next pitch.

HalladayGattis.gif.opt

And here we have an awful mistake, as Halladay coughs up a dinger to Evan Gattis. Instead of a cutter on the low-away corner, Halladay throws a cutter down the pipe to a guy whose whole game is his strength. Gattis, like Upton, didn’t clear the wall by a whole lot, but this isn’t a good pitch that got punished. This is a terrible pitch that got punished, and this doesn’t look like Roy Halladay at all, except for the part where it was Roy Halladay who threw the pitch.

As almost always, there’s nothing to conclude from one start. But there is plenty to watch, as we can monitor Halladay’s release point going forward, and we can look at his velocity, and we can look at his pitch selection. There’s not nearly enough evidence to suggest that Halladay is bad now — you usually don’t miss that many bats if you’re ineffective, even if you’re playing the 2013 Braves. That, more than anything else, is the reason to be somewhat encouraged by Halladay’s performance. But at lower velocities, Halladay needs to be better about locating, because reduced velocity means reduced margin of error. If Halladay’s going to be an 88-90 guy now, he needs to figure out how to make the best of it, and we need to figure out what the best of it is. Roy Halladay is changing. He’s been changing for a while. The question is whether he’ll change into something resembling what he was. Some of the elements, at least, are there, but everybody eventually gets worse. Everybody, from the best players to the worst. That’s the one thing we can be sure of.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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fast at last
Guest
fast at last
3 years 5 months ago

Last night’s game was bizarre, both for Halladay and the Braves hitters. As an atl fan, I expect this game to represent our season in a microcosm.

Also with the exception of Simmons, who is inexperienced, everyone who was in the ATL lineup last night is a probable 20%+ strikeout guy, and most of the Ks were deep in the count.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
3 years 5 months ago

Of course this was a bit extreme, but this won’t be the last time a pitcher strikes out a bunch of Braves while giving up a few big flies.

Frank Q
Guest
Frank Q
3 years 5 months ago

It feels true that slower throwing pitchers get away with less mistakes and get hit more on pitches that hit their spot. Is there any evidence that velocity correlates with higher BABIPs or HR/FB rate?

Steve Staude
Member
Member
3 years 5 months ago

My 2003-2012 spreadsheet of career numbers is showing a -0.04 correlation between BABIP and FBv (fastball velocity), and a -0.26 between HR/FB and FBv. That’s with a 400 IP minimum, btw (n = 342). So, there’s no direct connection at all between velocity and BABIP, it would appear, but maybe velocity helps prevent HRs.

Fastball “rise,” reflected by a high FA-Z score, is very helpful for inducing popups, therefore leading to a lower BABIP(http://www.fangraphs.com/community/index.php/babip-and-innings-pitched-plus-explaining-popups/). It has a -0.2 correlation with BABIP, a -0.32 with HR/FB, and a 0.55 with popup rate.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 5 months ago

I wonder if one problem is that a lot of the faster fastballs are straight as an arrow. It seemed like every team in the 00’s had a reliever or two who could throw in the high 90’s, but with no movement. Despite the velocity, it wasn’t too hard to square up on.

Steve Staude
Member
Member
3 years 5 months ago

Yeah, I think so. On an individual pitcher level, there’s a tradeoff between velocity and spin. On the other hand, greater arm speed should allow for more backspin, all else equal. Overall, there’s either no correlation between 4-seam velocity and “rise,” or maybe a very slight positive one.

I think the velocity-HR/FB connection probably has something to do with faster pitches being harder to pull, though: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/an-unsolicited-follow-up-study-of-pull/

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 5 months ago

95 pitches in 3 and a third innings?? I wonder if Hallady has ever had that high of a pitch count in three innings??

Ed
Guest
Ed
3 years 5 months ago

On May 5th 2000, he threw 103 pitches in 3 2/3 innings.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 5 months ago

Good article Jeff! Can you number the panels in the release point GIF? The GIF starts running before one scrolls down that far and scrolls continuously, so I don’t know which panel is first, second, or third.

Hamba
Member
Hamba
3 years 5 months ago

The highest one is “first”, the one that is kind of below that is “second”, and the lowest one that is clearly the lowest and, thus, making his point, is “third”.

ALEastbound
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

It is probably too simplistic to just state he has too many clicks on the old right arm but he definitely doesn’t resemble the pitcher who was traded to Philly originally.

Bip
Guest
Bip
3 years 5 months ago

If anyone was primed to succeed as a 88-90 guy, I’d think it would be Halladay. If he doesn’t succeed, I’d have to think something else is going on besides lower velocity.

phaddix
Member
Member
phaddix
3 years 5 months ago

This is my feeling – I think Halladay will be an effective middle of the rotation starter this year but may have some growing pains, like last night, getting there. I think it would behoove him to reinvent himself with a pitch to contact approach as opposed to trying to be dominant. I think he realizes this, after the game he said:

“I was just trying to be too picky, too fine…Last year, feeling the way you do, you think, I can’t throw an 86 m.p.h. fastball to a general zone, it’s going to get hit. So you get to the point where you start to get picky.”

I think for him to be effective he needs to be less picky and throw good pitches that will likely be hit but not hit well. Some of the times good hitters like Upton above win and he needs to be ok with that.

snack man
Guest
snack man
3 years 5 months ago

Do you work on the pitching coach staff for the Twins, by chance?

Scott
Guest
Scott
3 years 5 months ago

No kidding. That mentality is sickening when every pitcher on the team is the exact same.

lorecore
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

“Gattis didn’t clear the wall by a whole lot” – his batflip and walkoff trot sure looked like he got all of it. Hopefully he learns the difference via his earhole tonight.

busch
Member
busch
3 years 5 months ago

U mad?

Anon21
Member
Anon21
3 years 5 months ago

Eh… it got hung up in the wind. He hit the ball quite hard, so I think the surprising thing was that it turned into a wallscraper, not that he was sure it was gone when he hit it.

As to the bat flip… matter of personal taste. I don’t love it for a rookie, but the best way to cut him down to size is to embarrass him on a strikeout, not throw at him. (Anyway, he’s not playing tonight.)

AMAC
Guest
AMAC
3 years 5 months ago

Cole, is that you?!

DD
Guest
DD
3 years 5 months ago

The second pitch GIF is not a curve but a changeup. He was using the changeup alot, but definitely was missing his spots all nite. The home plate ump was also not doing him any favors, though that could be attributed to Kratz’s framing as well.

Jay29
Member
Jay29
3 years 5 months ago

Agreed, not many curves back up towards arm side.

payroll
Guest
payroll
3 years 5 months ago

I think the lower release point and what appears to be just a slower arm action are pretty clear indications that the shoulder is still bothering him.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 5 months ago

But didn’t he have shoulder problems all of last year? I’d think an off-season of rest would at least give him a little more oomph at the beginning of the year, compared to the end of last year.

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
3 years 5 months ago

Halladay looked like he was having trouble with the wet mound. His velocity and arm slot are drastically different from his great years. He still has the great movement on his stuff but the control is slightly amiss at the moment.

Greg
Guest
Greg
3 years 5 months ago

Good analysis and article. Will be interesting to see how Halladay progresses as the season continues.

snack man
Guest
snack man
3 years 5 months ago

Pitcher increases changeup use and gets taken deep more often, news real at 10.

The Royal We?
Guest
The Royal We?
3 years 5 months ago

as opposed to the news fake?

Questions
Guest
Questions
3 years 5 months ago

Sometime I don’t know when it became normal to describe a pitcher’s “velocity,” but velocity is speed plus direction of motion, and in the above, and in most instances, direction is omitted and in fact irrelevant–am I right? So wouldn’t it be better to describe the speed of a pitcher’s fastball in all cases other than when direction is also being described? Because a pitcher’s velocity (his H-break and his V-Break) could change with no change in speed.

Am I missing the boat?

Tactical Bear
Guest
Tactical Bear
3 years 5 months ago

You didn’t MISS the boat so much as show up at a random pier wearing a sign that says, “I’m weirdly pedantic.”

Questions
Guest
Questions
3 years 5 months ago

You know what if I were you pathetic bigot?

pete v
Guest
pete v
3 years 5 months ago

ve·loc·i·ty /v??läs?t?/
Noun
1. The speed of something in a given direction.
2. (in general use)* Speed.

…and more for the weirdly pedantic among us, here’s the SparkNotes on Velocity, Acceleration, and Parametric Curves. I’m sure greg will appreciate the figure skating analogy.

*(in general use) is code for bastardisation

pete v
Guest
pete v
3 years 5 months ago

[above] click “Velocity, Acceleration, and Parametric Curves” and “bastardisation” for links

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
Guest
GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
3 years 5 months ago

Interesting conclusion, but I’m going to need to see your work. I’m just not convinced.

Peter2
Guest
Peter2
3 years 5 months ago

I don’t understand why people are teasing this guy for being pedantic. When did it become unusual to be weirdly pedantic on this site, or are people just not aware of it when they do it themselves?

Art
Guest
Art
3 years 5 months ago

Is there a good site that has the pitch location as well as if each pitch was called a ball or strike? Mlb.com doesn’t have that info anymore. It seemed like the ump was not calling many of Halladay’s pitches on the edge of the zone as strikes last night. I’d be curious to see how true that was.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 5 months ago

I just attribute the strange line to it being the 2013 Braves. Maybe it’s extreme, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens again this year.

Justaguywholikesbaseball
Guest
Justaguywholikesbaseball
3 years 5 months ago

Great article Jeff. I am rooting for Roy (not “rooting” like the Aussies mean) to stay on the good side of the aging curve for as long as possible, so its good to have some positive takeaways.

One thing I was wondering about was whether not having Ruiz behind the plate would be affecting Roy’s game as the season gets going. Your examination of Halladay himself shows some pretty good reasons for what might be out of whack, but in your opinion (or any of the other gurus on FG for that matter) would working with a different catcher provide any explanation here?

Simon G
Guest
Simon G
3 years 5 months ago

FWIW, that pitch to Gattis doesn’t look much like a cutter. The action looks to be in toward the hitter, like a 2-seamer or change.

Ben
Guest
3 years 5 months ago

Nice piece Jeff, Doc’s drop in arm slot is a bit troublesome because even if it is on purpose, it obviously isn’t working. After watching him in Spring Training and this past week I continue to think his mechanics are a bit off. Halladay’s front shoulder seems to be flying open, especially when throwing his changeup/splitter, and oftentimes when throwing the cutter. The pitch he just hangs up there for Gattis to crush was one of those shoulder open pitches.

tom
Guest
tom
3 years 5 months ago

the strikeout in the second gif is actually a change-up

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
Guest
GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
3 years 5 months ago

I hope Roy turns it around. No particular love for the Phillies, but it’s always painful to see a guy that good lose it so fast.

Sillypants
Guest
Sillypants
3 years 5 months ago

It’s going to be interesting to revisit this article in September and see where Roy’s numbers end up. Jeff could be on to something, or maybe it’s just a bad stretch for a pitcher who’s been so dominant for the past, what feels like, decade.

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