I hate cliff hanger endings. In the era of season finales and mid season finales, TV dramas drop cliff hangers on us like crazy. Who knew Roy Halladay was also in on it?
On March 17, I planted myself on the couch to enjoy a Sunday afternoon Spring Training ballgame. It was my first chance to watch Roy Halladay pitch since his injury riddled 2012 campaign. Instead of preparing a shiny new scouting report for you of the new Roy Halladay, I was exploited by a cliff hanger. Halladay, unbeknownst to us, was fighting a stomach virus and lasted one inning. It would be 17 days before we got to watch Doc again.
April 3rd would be everyone’s chance to figure out, once and for all, what to expect from Roy Halladay. Yet for me, I felt no less confused at the end of Halladay’s performance than I had after observing his “stomach virus” game.
In what proved to be a truly peculiar evening, Halladay allowed three runs and threw 40 pitches in the first inning in the same game in which he became the first pitcher since 1916 to strike out nine batters in less than 3 2/3 innings. As head scratching as the outing proved to be, there were a few takeaways from Halladay’s performance.
--We know that most of his pitches were in the 88-90 mph range and that he topped off at 92 on one pitch.
--We learned that his off speed pitches had good movement and that he relied on them in two strike counts.
-- We know that he got hit around with his fastball.
--We know that his command was not Halladay-esque.
These are facts in the sense that we observed them, but they served more as a hypothesis or a set of symptoms like with, say, a stomach virus than they were true facts. We saw what we saw, but do we really know what we know?
What seemed more telling were Halladay’s comments. He revealed, as much as Doc ever would, that his velocity was a problem for him last season. "I was just trying to be too picky, too fine," Halladay said of his 2013 debut outing. "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."
It seemed to me like this was Halladay’s official acknowledgement that the old Halladay is gone and he must change his approach. "I've always relied on movement and not tried to pick sides of the plate," Halladay said. "And there were times where we were picking corners of the plate. I need to open it up and let the movement take care of itself."
That is good news, because Halladay did seem to have his usual movement, at least on his off speed pitches. But can Halladay be effective with his new approach?
To answer that question, we can compare Halladay to a pitcher who is well on his way to Cooperstown named Greg Maddux. The popular opinion is that Halladay can’t become a Greg Maddux type. I totally disagree.
The best way I can explain it is to remind you of your initial impressions when Halladay first came over to Philly. You probably said to yourself:
“Look at the movement on his pitches.”
“That guy has amazing control.”
“He works really quick.”
And I bet you didn’t once think about his velocity.
Halladay did not become a 199 game winner and future Hall of Famer by blowing hitters away with heat. Sure, his velocity helped, but Halladay won with several plus pitches, terrific movement, pinpoint control, identical arm angles, intelligence, and mental toughness. Halladay’s velocity ranked last on this list in my opinion. If there was one pitcher I have seen in the last two decades who would be the most likely to succeed at 88-90, it is without question Doc.
To understand why Halladay can and will succeed, let’s size up Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux (for those of you who haven’t seen him pitch) had a fastball in the mid 80's and succeeded based on movement and control. Maddux rarely threw strikes, as his pitches were always just a smidgen off the plate – just close enough to get hitters to bite.
Then there was his movement. He threw nothing straight. Imagine Vance Worley’s backdoor pitch with twice the movement and give him the ability to throw it on both sides of the plate. And his fastball always had movement - everything moved. And like Worley, Maddux stayed away from the middle of the plate.
There isn’t a single thing Maddux did that Halladay cannot do. He has the stuff, he has the smarts, and he has the determination to reinvent himself. Now that he has finally admitted to himself that he is getting older, we will find out tonight if he is able to execute.
Let’s consider April 3rd to be the pilot episode of the 2013 Halladay DOCumentary. We know the symptoms - tonight we might find out the doc's prognosis.
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