A Case for Malpractice

So, what was wrong with Roy Halladay the past month?  From the media headlines I had been reading, it sounded as though our ace Doc had turned into Erik Hanson overnight.  Various conspiracy theorists wrote that Halladay must be distracted after a very busy trade deadline.  Or that his arm was tired.  Or that he had actually wanted to be moved and was pitching this way well, out of spite? 

We were being inundated with so much talk of Halladay not being himself I actually thought it must be true.  After all, being that Toronto is one of the most media savvy cities in North America they just had to be onto something, right?  Over the past 30 days (this does include the CG 1-hit shutout vs. the Yankees on September 4th, 2009) Roy’s win loss record (a stat hugely out of any pitchers control) was only 3-4.  How could Roy live with himself? 

Let’s be honest, the offense has been pretty paltry and the once proud Jays defence has taken quite a hit with the departures of defensive stalwarts Scott Rolen (15.2 career UZR/150) and the much maligned and fan whipping boy Alex Rios (career UZR/150 sits at an impressive 12.7).  They were replaced by the stone hands of Edwin Encarnacion (-12.9 UZR/150 this season at 3B) and the fullback turned right-fielder Travis Snider (very small sample size aside, a brutal -22.6 UZR/150 thus far). 

Thankfully Halladay is a ground ball oriented pitcher (past 30 days, 49.2% ground ball rate – career 56.4%) so adding Snider (and now DH turned LF Adam Lind) to the outfield doesn’t necessarily affect Roy’s overall numbers as much as a poor infielder would, but it can’t help.  I dare say the legendary Walter Johnson would have trouble winning in front of these Jays right now.

Even the once proud CF Vernon Wells decided he doesn’t see the need to actually track down fly balls anymore (past 2 seasons UZR/150 sit at -24.0 & -19.3 respectively).  To put it bluntly, the Jays outfield defence is absolutely abysmal.  Considering the porous defence behind him you can see why Roy Halladay has struggled so mightily the past 30 days or so.  Or was he struggling? 

Let’s take a deeper look.  In the past 30 days Roy Halladay has managed:

-8.57 K/9, 1.71 BB/9, 5.0 K/BB, 1.07 HR/9 to go along with a tidy 3.37 FIP (fielding independent pitching).

All of the above numbers are in spite of a high(ish) .338 BABIP, low(ish) strand rate of 68.1% and around league average HR/FB ratio of 12.8%.   He’s still pounding the zone (66.3% first strike rate) and getting plenty of swings outside the strike zone (29.4% outside-zone swings).  He hasn’t had the slightest bit of luck yet his numbers over the past month are still outstanding by any measure. 

Before his CG 1-hit shutout of the Yankees, his numbers obviously weren’t quite as impressive.  In the six starts before his last, his main source of trouble rested on the fact he had given up 54 hits in 42 innings pitched.   Of course as we all know the pitcher has zero control of the ball once it leaves his hand from the pitcher’s mound and Roy was clearly suffering from both bad luck and bad Toronto defence.  He didn’t have much luck on fly balls either, as over 18% of his fly balls turned into HRs which is well over his career HR/FB rate of 10.4%.  However, he still had his impeccable command working as he posted an impressive K to BB ratio of 36:5 during the same span.

Another popular opinion making the rounds was that Roy’s arm was getting tired or being overused.  However, the velocity on his 2-seamer has been 92.6 mph and on his cutter 91.5 mph.  He’s actually been throwing the ball slightly harder over the past month of baseball.  What’s more amazing is not just how well Halladay has been pitching but who he was pitching well against.  His past 7 starts have lined up like this: NYY, BAL, @TB, BOS, TB, @BOS, and NYY.  Six of Halladay’s past seven starts have come against arguably the three best teams in all of baseball.

To me Roy Halladay is still evolving as a pitcher, even at the age of 32.  He is a pitcher’s pitcher, who has managed nothing but success even while pitching during the height of the steroid era, all while presumably being clean himself.  He has nearly ditched the 2-seam sinking fastball in favour of his cut fastball over the past few seasons with great success.  Here is the percentage of cutters thrown since he started throwing it in 2004 – 2.5, 7.5, 19.3, 25.2, and 33.2 all the way to a healthy 42.2% of the time this season.  He only throws his fastball around 30% of the time now. 

This is probably a sound strategy and his cutter rates as one of baseball’s most effective pitches according to fangraphs pitch type values.  With the increased success of the cutter has come a more effective way to deal with left-handed batters, always a boon to a right-handed pitcher.  On the season, Halladay has better overall numbers versus lefties this season than right-handed batters (lower ERA, whip & batting average vs. the southpaws).

There are plenty of things that need fixing with the Jays right now but let’s just put this one myth to bed immediately.  Roy Halladay is just fine, thanks.

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4 responses to “A Case for Malpractice

  1. Neat article; I’d suggest that the increased usage of the cutter this year isn’t as awesome as it sounds, though, since that’s the pitch that seems to be causing the increased homer rate this year (at least on first-pass observation; it could be viewer bias).

    Doc’s certainly fine and our defense certainly sucks, and of late the offense hasn’t been great, but the increased use of the cutter is keeping the ball straighter and more vertical, which makes it easier to hit over the fence than a sinking fastball. I’d rather he found a better balance. He pushed the cutter usage up 12% and backed off the two-seamer by about 9%; if he even that out a little, he’d probably have the best of both worlds.

  2. It also didn’t help that Halladay gets squeezed by the umps than any other pitcher in the majors – at least it seems that way!

  3. The look of frustration on the face of Doc recently has been very noticeable. He has had some tough luck recently, I remember a game against TBay where he gave up 3 bloop singles in an inning and he looked disgusted.

    An intense competitor needless to say!

  4. Just FYI, I don’t think those cutter numbers are at all accurate. Nobody is very good at telling between different kinds of fastballs or even between cutters and sliders right now.

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