Thursday, April 4, 2013
A scout's take on Roy Halladay
By Jayson Stark
It was one of the strangest pitching lines of all time.
Nine strikeouts -- out of 10 outs.
Then there were those 10 hitters who didn't strike out. Wow. Those 10 combined for -- fasten your seat belt now -- a batting average of .857 (6-for-7).
And an on-base percentage of -- ready for this? -- .900 (with nine of the 10 reaching base).
Not to mention two home runs.
And 95 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, by a man who once threw an 83-pitch complete game.
That was how Roy Halladay spent his evening Wednesday in Atlanta, in his first start of 2013. It was a bizarre night on the mound, all right. But now let's try to figure out what it means.
Roy Halladay's pitching line against the Braves: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 95 pitches (55 strikes).
I spoke Thursday morning with a scout who was in attendance. Twelve hours later, he was still having a tough time digesting it.
"If you didn't know it was Roy Halladay out there," he said, "you would say, 'This guy looks like a journeyman.'"
A journeyman. For more than a decade, that would have been the last word anyone ever would have attached to a description of Roy Halladay. But now he finds himself a few weeks from his 36th birthday with more than 33,000 pitches on the odometer. And all of a sudden, the same scout said, "he looks like a guy who doesn't have a whole lot left in his tank."
"I didn't see anything alarming," the scout went on. "Nothing where you'd say he's doing this or doing that, and that's what was wrong. I just think he's thrown a lot of pitches over the years. He's always kept himself in great shape, so it isn't that. But you've only got so many throws in that arm."
It was a sobering way to look at it, all right -- but one shared by scouts I've surveyed about Halladay all spring. But for the sake of breaking down this outing further, I asked the same scout to dissect various aspects of Halladay's performance:
• What all those strikeouts (9) say: "The strikeouts are a little bit deceiving. Those hitters could do just about whatever they wanted with him, really. They weren't overmatched. It wasn't like that. The Braves are going to swing and miss a lot. ...
"I know he struck out five in a row at one point. But you've got to look at who it was. He was picking on [Evan] Gattis, who was in his first game in the big leagues. Then the pitcher. Then [Andrelton] Simmons. Those guys will swing and miss. And B.J. Upton went 0-for-4, with four punchouts, so obviously, he wasn't swinging real good.
"I'm just saying, that's not the way he pitched when he was in his prime. The difference is, before, when he needed a strikeout he could go get it. Now he can't do that. Not against a really good hitter."
• What all those hits (6) say: "Historically, this was a guy who always got quick outs. I've seen him go 85 to 90 pitches in nine innings. So to see him throw 95 in 3 1/3, that just tells you he's not right. Normally, he'd just pound the strike zone: Here comes strike one, and everybody knows it. Now, the hitters smell blood. And they just wait him out 'til they get what they want. ... It's like when sharks smell blood. This guy has dominated them for so long, it's like they're saying, 'Now's our time to get some payback.'"
• On Halladay saying he needs to be more aggressive: Asked if Halladay has the stuff anymore to challenge hitters early in counts, the scout replied: "Based on what I saw last night, that answer is no. Hey, now if next start, he's 92-94 [miles per hour], with life? Then yeah. But not at 88-90, with no life. He basically tricked them into getting those punchouts."
• On Halladay saying he needs to get more ground balls early in the count: "That's the way he used to pitch. But to do that, you've got to get strike one. And that means [hard sinkers with] movement. But last night, his movement was mostly side-to-side."
And now comes the biggest question of all:
Is it possible Halladay is done? "Well, it's going to be a struggle. He's got to reinvent himself. And that's going to take a while. But I don't think he's done. I wouldn't go that far. Anyone who thinks this guy is a top-of-the-rotation guy now is not being realistic. And when I say top of the rotation, I mean a [No.] 1 or 2. He's not that. He's more like a [No.] 4 for me now. But that doesn't mean he's done. ...
"I think that because the competitiveness will always be there. But before, he could just out-stuff you. Now he's at the point, I don't think he can do that anymore. Now he's got to depend on location and command. It's going to be interesting to see if he can do that. He's been a warrior for a long time. But this is just the aging process, man, taking its toll. It happens to everybody. Everyone has that day. And I think his day is approaching very quickly."
So how bizarre was this game? Check out these crazy tidbits:
• If you thought you'd never seen a guy strike out nine in 3 1/3 innings before, you've got that right. Halladay was the first pitcher since 1900 to pull that off, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• And 95 pitches in 3 1/3 innings? Halladay owns five complete games in his career in which he threw no more than 95 pitches and a dozen games in which he's worked eight innings in 95 or fewer. And in this game, he had to huff and puff through 95 just to get 10 outs.
• Then again, it took Halladay 40 pitches to get through the first inning Wednesday. Yeah, 40. It was his first 40-pitch inning in almost six years -- since a 41-pitch first inning against the Red Sox on July 12, 2007. In between, he reeled off 1,186 1/3 innings without ever needing that many pitches to get three outs. Or 1,234 1/3 if you count the postseason.
• The Braves' .867 batting average when they actually made contact was the highest I could find against any pitcher in the live ball era who struck out at least nine in a game. The record before this? On April 25, 1990, David Cone spun off this wild line: 3 2/3 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 9 K. The hitters who didn't whiff that night went 8-for-10 (.800) with three walks. The team he faced? The Braves.
• And one more thing: Only 57.9 percent of Halladay's pitches Wednesday were strikes. He's made 377 career starts. He's thrown a lower percentage of strikes than that, according to ESPN Stats and Info, in only 15 of them.
"I don't think anybody likes to see a star going the other way," the scout said. "He's been a warrior for so long, we've all got that respect for him. You hate to see it. But like I said, it happens to everyone."