Roy Halladay, In Relief of Roy Halladay

Given his excellence over the last decade, it’s become difficult to discuss Roy Halladay without merely descending into a list of superlative adjectives.

Indeed, Roy Halladay posted the league’s best WAR (8.2) among pitchers last season. By WAR, he’s been the best pitcher over the last two years, as well. And last three years. And four years. And five. And six. And seven. Really, to find a recent analog to Halladay’s achievement as a pitcher, you have to go back to 1998; over the final 12 years and ca. 2,400 innings of his career, Randy Johnson posted a 73.3 WAR. (Halladay debuted in 1998 himself, and has recorded 70.5 wins in 2554.0 innings since then.)

Given Halladay’s dominance, it’s unusual to find him in a jam of any sort while pitching; however, during last night’s contest against the Giants, something like a jam unfolded for the right-hander.

With Philadelphia leading San Francisco by a score of 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Halladay allowed consecutive hits to Brandon Belt (single) and Brandon Crawford (double) to start the inning (box). That situation (runners on second and third base with no outs) created a generic run expectancy of 1.79 for the Giants. That accounted not only for Halladay’s highest-allowed run expectancy of the young season, but would have actually been his fifth-highest mark during all of 2011. Over the span of two batters, San Francisco’s win expectancy had risen from 8.4% (at the conclusion of Philly’s half of the fourth) to 20.5%. Even two outs, provided they were of the batted variety, could shrink Philly’s lead by two runs.

As expert baseball analyst Gary “Sarge” Matthews noted on the Philadelphia broadcast, the situation called for a strikeout — but with San Francisco’s Manny Burriss, owner of just an 11.7% strikeout rate in 674 career plate appearances, due up, that appeared unlikely.

It was here that Roy Halladay effectively (ahem) relieved himself — which is to say, he transformed briefly from Roy Halladay, Brutally Efficient Starter to Roy Halladay, High-Leverage Relief Pitcher.

Here’s the sequence. Note: “Vertical Location” is height from ground. The bottom of Burriss’s zone is 1.45 feet, according to PITCHf/x. Other note: click on any GIF for Maximum Viewing Pleasure.

Pitch One: Curve, 75 mph
Vertical Location: 1.81 feet
Notes: Halladay’s first pitch is a curve with about 3.5 inches of drop (relative to a spinless ball) — this, relative to his average curve, which is generally closer to just 1.5 inches of drop.

Pitch Two: Split-Change, 82 mph
Vertical Location: 1.73 feet
Notes: After the curve, Halladay goes a little bit lower with the splitter. He gets about 2.8 inches of drop on it — again, more than his usual one or so inches.

Pitch Three: Curve, 75 mph
Vertical Location: 0.38 feet
Notes: Halladay gets excellent break (four inches of drop) on this curve, which Burriss ends up just barely fouling off.

Pitch Four: Split-Change, 82 mph
Vertical Location: 0.70 feet
Notes: Halladay continues to work under the strike zone with his second 0-2 pitch. PITCHf/x suggests that this pitch features 9.5 inches of arm-side run (relative to Halladay’s normal six or seven). That doesn’t necessarily seem like the case, visually, although the offset camera angle makes it difficult to tell precisely. In any case, he gets a swinging strike on yet another low pitch.

All told, Halladay recorded three of his 13 swinging-strikes for the game during this four-pitch sequence — and he did so while avoiding the strike zone almost entirely, as this strikezone plot indicates.

Halladay immediately went to swing-and-miss mode in this high-leverage encounter with Burriss. Between here and the end of the inning, Halladay recorded a 9.6% WPA — essentially earning a shutdown in the middle of his own start. At no point during the rest of his appearance did the Giants’ win expectancy get any higher than 12.9%. Accordingly, Halladay returned to his efficient self, throwing only 44 pitches over the next four innings, 31 of those for strikes (70.5%). However, in the meantime, Halladay revealed his ability to adjust to the situation and get swinging strikes when called upon to do so.

Very helpful pitch-by-pitch data from Brooks Baseball.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

49 Responses to “Roy Halladay, In Relief of Roy Halladay”

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  1. Drew says:

    Marry me, Cistulli.

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Would love someone with a microphone to buy Roy Halladay and Greg Maddux sandwiches and beers and make them talk pitching strategy for a couple hours. The two geniuses of the modern mound.

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Justin says:

      Please don’t forget Pedro Martinez when discussing brilliant pitchers. It’s easy to do because his stuff was so good, but Maddux and Halladay have phenomenal stuff too.

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        I’d also like to hear Trevor Bauer get into a fight with Tim McCarver. But I digress.

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    • Santos says:

      I would love to buy a Roy Halladay Sandwich.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. ericmilburn says:

    It takes balls to dump two pitches in the dirt with a runner on third. Is that a subtle testament to Halladay’s trust of Chooch?

    +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. AL Eastbound says:

    Great work. Halladay led all hurlers in WAR during the first decade of the new millennium. I think he was 2 or 3 overall including position players.

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  5. chiefglockandhummer says:

    i think this is my favorite fangraphs post of all time

    +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jdbolick says:

      Just about to say the same. Awesome work.

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    • Nathan says:

      Agreed, great stuff. The only time I’ve ever seen a real good description of exactly why Halladay is so great. This shows, as mentioned above, that he’s not “just” a “smart” pitcher or a student of the game, but he actually has devastating stuff… just nasty, nasty movement. When he wants to miss bats, he misses bats. And the GIFs also show his smarts for expanding the strike zone perfectly.

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  6. Metsox says:

    great post….

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  7. Rey22 says:

    Roy Halladay is a beast.

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  8. robbalis says:

    The thing that is most impressive about Halladay is that he has dominated baseball while pitching his career in the american league east…and now in the national league east..with no dh….BUT pitching out of a band box…

    I can only imagine what his numbers would be if he played out in the NL west

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  9. Brian says:

    can’t believe how great this article is. carson, never change

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  10. dob90 says:

    Thanks for posting this. Very insightful article.

    As a sidenote to the RJ comparison, it’s perhaps interesting to see that Johnson accrued 89.8 WAR over 2550 IP in the twelve season span from 1993-2004. As stated above, Halladay has earned 70.5 in the same number of innings. As phenomenal as Halladay has been the past decade, it puts into perspective how fantastically dominant Johnson was in his prime. Obviously this wasn’t the point of the article, but I thought it was worth noting.

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Rob says:

      It almost makes you wonder where Halladay would be on the all-time list if he hadn’t lost all those seasons to injury. His 2005 season had a chance to be one of the truly great pitching seasons.

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      • Billy says:

        Yes! Most people forget Doc was in line to get his (at the time) second Cy Young in 2005 before taking a line drive to the leg right before the All Star Break. His stats were downright dominant in that first half.

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    • DD says:

      AND done entirely during the steroid era.

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  11. sc2gg says:

    When Halladay had 126 wins, I predicted he’d make the Hall of Fame in an ESPN post about how no current active pitchers seemed to be HoF candidates.

    Suck it, ESPN!

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    • Eric R says:

      Halladay got his 126th win towards the end of the 2008 season.

      Maddux, Johnson, Glavine, Pedro and Smoltz were all still active at the time, but I’m going to guess that the context of the ‘poll’ excluded them since they were all essentially done by then [and could have retired 5+ years before and still be HoFers]. Lets toss Mussina and Pettitte in that pile too.

      Here is Halladay plus some of the other candidates through 2008:
      Oswalt 98-47, 3.05 ERA, 144 ERA+, 28yo
      Santana 109-51, 3.11 ERA, 144 ERA+, 29yo
      Webb 87-62, 3.24 ERA, 144 ERA+, 29yo
      Lincecum 25-10, 3.16 ERA, 141 ERA+, 24yo
      Harden 41-20, 3.23 ERA, 138 ERA+, 26yo
      Halladay 131-66, 3.52 ERA, 133 ERA+, 31yo
      Hamels 38-23, 3.43 ERA, 132 ERA+, 24yo
      Hudson 146-77, 3.61 ERA, 127 ERA+, 32yo

      AT the time Hudson looked to have a pretty similar case and there were a bunch of younger guys who looked like they had bright futures ahead [plus Greinke, King Felix, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, Ervin Santana, etc]

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  12. Big Jgke says:

    This is not how I pictured a story about Roy Halladay relieving himself would go.

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nate says:

      You know, the entire reason Carson wrote the article is so he could publish the words It was here that Roy Halladay effectively (ahem) relieved himself

      great writeup anyway!

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  13. Toronto says:

    There’s a better encounter than this one from years back. Bases loaded, nobody out. Halladay pitching against the twins. He then strikes out the heart of the order. The only difference to this is that he used fastballs. I remember he struck Morneau out on a 95 or 96 MPH fastball and Morneau just looked over at him in shock after swinging and missing.

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  14. Eric Cioe says:

    Please do a similar article about Verlander’s last out. He worked himself into a stupid jam and got out of it with a 100 mph fastball and a great changeup, 130 pitches deep.

    As impressive as Halladay is, there is something about the raw physical specimen that Verlander is that is more impressive to me. That sort of velocity, in-game endurance, and full season durability is something that doesn’t come around much. Randy Johnson perhaps threw 100 mph 120+ pitches in, but other than that you’ve got to go back to Nolan Ryan.

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  15. Bip says:

    I actually was watching this part of this game at the time and could only stare slack-jawed as Roy Hallady Roy-Halladayed Burriss. Here’s a superlative for you: Roy Halladay is the Roy-Halladayest pitcher of recent memory.

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  16. Devon says:

    Pure awesome. Makes me think that Halladay could finish his career as an effective reliever.

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  17. cable fixer says:

    terrific, terrific article. good work!

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  18. quincy0191 says:

    Wait a minute. Roy Halladay managed to strike out Emmanuel Burriss? Stop the presses!

    It was a pretty great pitch sequence for Halladay, but let’s be realistic here: as you pointed out in the beginning of the article, he’s pretty much the best pitcher on the planet and has been so for awhile now. Emmanuel Burriss, meanwhile, has a career .275 wOBA in just over a season’s worth of PAs. Okay, he doesn’t strike out much, but he’s still just a God-awful hitter.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      You’re missing the point. He needed a strike out against a hitter who doesn’t strike out, and got one.

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  19. reillocity says:

    Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford got hits!? Consecutively!? Off Halladay!?

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  20. adohaj says:

    Randy Johnson was really good. Like if you add Roy Halladay’s WAR to Johan Santana’s WAR you get Randy Johnson’s WAR

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  21. Slacker George says:

    A couple of questions. These aren’t meant to be snarky.
    1. Was Halladay’s pitch drop in this game greater than normal? Maybe his stuff was better today than normal, making this at bat less abnormal for the game.
    2. I understand that this was high-leverage, but if he can be this clutch (my word), why doesn’t he pitch more like this in lower-leverage situations?
    3. Maybe Philly had a good book on Burriss. Would he have pitched this way to a better hitter?

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      There was a lot of content published around the time he was traded about how efficient he is in his strategy. I’m not sure if Halladay’s admitted to it or if it was purely observational, but it’s been suggested that he cruises in low leverage situation to put less stress on himself.

      I suspect you’d find most people get more movement in situations where they need more movement. Think about how starters who switch to relief perform.

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  22. novaether says:

    “As expert baseball analyst Gary “Sarge” Matthews noted on the Philadelphia broadcast, the situation called for a strikeout ”

    Thank you for this. He’s the John Madden of baseball.

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  23. beastwarking says:

    That is some wicked movement! Great write up to compliment some great pitching

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  24. opisgod says:

    All that talk about Halladay’s velocity issues have disappeared…and he is still struggling to break 90 mph on most of his fastballs.

    Gotta love sports journalism.

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  25. jaybow says:

    It’s fucking Manny Burriss.

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