Last year, Roy Halladay shrugged off questions regarding his reported low velocity and poor pitch location during spring training. He was getting lit up in exhibition games but that didn't really matter, spring training stats don't necessarily predict how a player is going to perform in the regular season. Normally, for pitchers, it's a time to work on delivery and location. Suffice it to say, in 2012, Halladay had his worst year as a pro in over a decade, ending with a 2.5 fWAR. His K% dropped to 20.4 (lowest since 2007), BB% rose to 5.6% (highest since 2004) and he posted a LD% and GB% of 23% (18.5% in 2011) and 44.7% (only year below 50%). Batters were hitting Halladay and hitting him good. What's remarkable is that in this horrible year by Halladay's standards, his FIP was still only 3.69, indicating that he may have been a victim of some bad luck in 2012.
Going on the disabled list in late May with a strained latissimus dorsi and undergoing MRIs on his shoulder, alarms rang. A 35-year-old pitcher with over 2,500 IP showing decreased velocity and now shoulder problems? Even for someone as notoriously invincible as Halladay, the reports were concerning. He batted away suggestions that the shoulder spasms were signs of a long-term problem while his ERA crept up further and further throughout the second half. Before spring training this year, Halladay admitted that his lower back was the cause of his shoulder problems. After straining his back during his rigorous offseason routine, he tried to overcompensate by changing his mechanics and relying more on his upper body, eventually straining his shoulder.
Over at ESPN Insider ($), Teddy Mitrosilis quotes a MLB evaluator explaining that Halladay's lower half is probably "80 percent of his whole delivery and power, maybe more. Without the legs you lose arm speed and velocity." As a result, Halladay practically stopped throwing his fastball (FF) and increased his cutter (FC) usage.
Halladay Pitch Selection & Velocity - 2011
(Courtesy of TexasLeaguers)
Halladay Pitch Selection & Velocity - 2012
(Courtesy of TexasLeaguers)
Because Halladay couldn't use his lower half, he knew his velocity was mostly in the high 80s and his stuff overall lacked some crispness, so he gambled on the cutter and the hope he could move it off the barrel enough to create weak contact. Keep it down, keep it cutting and he just might get away with this.
Keep in mind Halladay is still only one season removed from an incredible year where he struck out 23.6% of the batters he faced and only walked 3.8% for a 2.20 FIP and a career high 8.1 fWAR. Age may have snuck up on Halladay during the offseason before 2012 but he has completely overhauled his routine for 2013. Now that he's healthy, presumably with a stronger lower body, Mitrosilis believes he can be an ace again in 2013 ($):
He says he solved his back issues during the winter and can use his legs in his delivery again. Sure, age will have its way with his arm eventually, but every indicator of health -- good delivery, a track record of durability, superior conditioning -- still points in his favor. More important, with his legs underneath him, he won't need to rig up some cutter-heavy plan to outthink hitters. He'll be unpredictable and deadly again.
David Murphy of the Daily News has heard reports of Halladay sitting between 86-88 MPH this spring. As many said last season, it is still just spring training. A 36-year-old with plenty of tread on his tires doesn't need to be throwing darts in early March. With the Phillies losing their grip on the NL East last year, they're going to need some quality pitching that they were used to seeing from Doc to compete. They can only hope that the revised offseason routine will help Halladay bounce back from his forgettable 2012. But will he?