The Phillies had themselves a decent spring going. They weren’t dominating teams and, in fact, a loss today dropped them to 7-9, but outside of that meaningless number there were positives. Ryan Howard and Dom Brown are both hitting a ton. In the case of Howard, he’s back on two legs. For Brown, there appears to be a new comfort level–even in the OF. There’s Michael Young’s .300+ average and the first looks at Ben Revere have been almost all positive. For a team with lineup questions, there was reason to be optimistic.
What Brown’s emergence and all the runs scored have eclipsed is an up and down performance by the pitching staff. Outside of Mike Adams the setup relievers have been shaky. Stutes, Diekman, DeFratus, Durbin–which of these guys wants a job? And the last place you’d expect to have worry would be the starting rotation, but each starter has had their bad outing. Those were written off for the most part until Tuesday.
When Cole Hamels gives up 12 hits to the Dominican Republic, it can be explained as Cole “working on his off speed pitches.” Especially when Hamels bounces back nicely. But, for Roy Halladay, Spring Training has become very important. Last year his spring troubles set the groundwork for a dreadful May and a trip to the DL. So, from day 1 this year, it’s been HOW HARD IS ROY THROWING? Aside from some very early readings, Halladay’s velocity has remained down. But, that was tempered by the presence of his signature “late movement,” and some good outings. On Tuesday that all changed. Not only could Roy not locate, but according to scouts he was somewhere between 84 and 87 mph on his fastball. That’s not good.
The Phillies have a lot of talent, but it’s built upon a very brittle foundation of health. You could argue that Halladay’s health is most important to this team. It was his injury last year that preempted the Phils losing their grip on the season. With Halladay in top form the Phillies have one of the best rotations in baseball. Without him, they have a rotation that includes Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan and Aaron Cook(?). A significant difference. And, if Halladay, a player who keeps himself in supreme condition, can’t keep himself healthy what hope do the rest of Philly’s aging stars have?
The question is whether this is a one day battle against “dead arm,” or if we’re looking at the page being turned in Halladay’s career. Is he a guy that will now run hot and cold?
In 2002, at age 36 Greg Maddux had a 2.62 ERA. The next year he blew up to 3.96 and then was never below 4.00 for the rest of his career. But, during those latter seasons, you’d still see flashes of Maddux’s old dominance. A shutout, a 100 pitch complete game. Is that where the Phillies are at with Roy?
What interests me is the reaction to Halladay’s struggles. From day one there has been an undercurrent to this story, a small fraction of people who believe Roy is facing a more serious medical condition. Today’s start will give them even more fuel for speculation. So, is he fighting a legitimate arm injury? Is something else wrong? Or, is he just an aging baseball player? It seems that Halladay’s impeccable workout regimen and dominance have really made people believe he’s indestructible.
Halladay’s going to be 36 in a couple of months. He’s thrown almost 2.700 regular season innings. And, lets not forget the crazy (for today’s standards) workload of 2010, where Roy threw 250 regular season innings and then made two playoff starts. Was it 2010 that did him in? The conspiracy theorists seem to think that Halladay couldn’t “lose it” all at once like this. Well, I gave you the example of Greg Maddux. How about some others?
1. At age 36 Jim Palmer went 15-5 and finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young race. He won five games the rest of his career.
2. At age 36 Tom Seaver was 2nd in the NL Cy Young race and had a 2.54 ERA. The next season he was 5-13 with 5.50 ERA and never was the same.
3. At age 33, Dave Stewart won 22 games and had a 2.56 ERA. The next year he was 11-11 with a 5.18 ERA.
4. At age 37 Jack Morris won 21 games (albeit with a 4+ ERA). The next year his ERA ballooned to 6.19.
Am I cherry picking some stats and guys? A bit, but these are just names that popped into my mind. Power pitchers, guys with great work ethics, and they all lost it pretty quick. Some (like Steve Carlton) held on a bit longer and others (like Rick Sutcliffe) were in their early thirties, but the quick decline seems to be a characteristic of pitchers.
What I think we might be forgetting is how steroid use momentarily made us forget how players age and decline. OK, Roger Clemens pitched brilliantly well into his late thirties and early forties, but did that become the standard? Did we forget that Clemens might not have been doing it cleanly?
Aside from Clemens and Nolan Ryan, the occasional knuckleballer and Jamie Moyer I’m not aware of pitchers who didn’t take a severe dip in their late thirties. They usually either break down, lose their stuff, or both. Is this what is happening to Roy Halladay? I guess we don’t know, but for now I’m still thinking and hoping that the conspiracy theorists are stretching to explain something that is actually very easy to explain.