The last time I wrote about Phillies ace Roy Halladay, in the middle of spring training, he called it, “poor reporting on the extreme end of poor reporting.”
What I reported was that two scouts had expressed concern about Halladay’s lack of velocity and sharpness, saying he looked different than in past spring trainings.
Well, he still looks different.
Not less effective – Halladay, after four starts, is 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA. But different to rival team officials who are watching him, and perhaps more important, different according to the Pitch F/x tracking data.
Back in mid-March, Halladay took offense at the suggestion that something might be wrong with him physically, even though I quoted Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. as saying he had “no concerns” along those lines.
I wasn’t saying anything was wrong with Halladay then. I’m not saying anything is wrong with him now. And yes, it’s too early to reach any kind of definitive conclusions.
But here’s what the data shows, according to Bloomberg Sports. I asked for Halladay’s numbers for each of the past three seasons, through four starts.
Halladay is using his trademark two-seam fastball 10 percent of the time, compared with 27 percent in ‘11 and 30 percent in ’10. His average fastball velocity is 90.1 mph, compared with 91.4 mph in ‘11 and 92.8 mph in ‘10.
He is throwing 51 percent cutters, 23 percent curveballs and 16 percent splitters, all increases over the past two seasons (Halladay had thrown only 13 percent curves through four starts in ’11 and 14 percent in ’10.).
Halladay’s velocities on all of those pitches also dropped from ’10 to ’11, and they’re down again in ’12. His cutter has gone from 92.1 mph to 90.5 mph to 88.7 during that time.
Then again, velocity isn’t everything; Halladay is generating nearly the same amount of swings-and-misses as he has in the past two seasons, and opponents are batting only .154 against his fastball.
The effect of declining velocity, scouts say, will be minimal as long as Halladay retains his movement and command. But if he starts to lose command, it will be difficult for Halladay to be as effective at lower speeds.
Again, the numbers tell only so much.
Halladay, who turns 35 on May 14, threw the most innings of any pitcher from 2006 to ’11, averaging 236 per season. He might still be building arm strength at a time when may other pitchers also are throwing at lower speeds; his average fastball at the end of last season was 0.5 mph higher than in his first four starts.
Still, pitchers evolve, and even great ones decline. It’s impossible to know whether Halladay is experiencing the former or the early stages of the latter. But his journey is fascinating, because he remains, indisputably, one of the top pitchers in the game.
One rival official who saw the pitcher in his third start against the Giants told me that the pitcher was “laboring more than usual . . . . really grinding.” Two who saw him Saturday night against the Padres had different opinions.
One said Halladay seemed normal, except for a slight downtick in velocity and a slightly lower release point. The other expressed more concern, saying Halladay looked “a little weathered . . . like he’s pitching late in the season after logging 180 innings.”
Each of the officials, like the scouts in my previous article, spoke on condition of anonymity. None wanted to be openly critical of Halladay; all respect him greatly. Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee declined comment.
Halladay’s most important numbers – his performance numbers – remain pristine. I don’t necessarily expect that to change anytime soon. I’m just saying that Halladay, as always, is worth watching.
He’s not quite the same guy.
A ROYAL FLUSH
“Our Time” is the Royals’ promotional theme this season.
Perhaps they should have waited a year – or more.
My one concern with the Royals entering the season was that their rotation would not be good enough. Well, it turns out every part of their club is not good enough – at least at the moment.
The Royals, a trendy pick to surprise, have dropped 10 straight games, falling to 3-12. Their rotation is 11th in the AL in ERA. Their bullpen also is 11th. And their offense is 11th in runs per game, down from sixth last season. Left fielder Alex Gordon is batting .190, first baseman Eric Hosmer .183.
“I’m not shocked that we’re struggling out of the gate,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore says. “Although you expect good things to happen, we’re very young. Our players are pressing.”
That is, the ones who are healthy.
Long-term injuries to catcher Salvador Perez, closer Joakim Soria and short-term ones to center fielder Lorenzo Cain, right-handed starter Felipe Paulino and right-handed reliever Greg Holland have contributed to the Royals’ slow start.
The loss of Perez, in particular, had far-reaching effects; he will be out until late June or early July after undergoing surgery on his left knee, and the Royals are using two backup catchers in his place. Perez, even after he returns, likely will catch only 3-4 days a week.
A scout who watched the team over the weekend says he was decidedly unimpressed by every aspect of the Royals’ play. But the expectations of club officials always were lower than those on the outside. Young players do not always make a linear progression.
“It’s not a bad thing to struggle,” Moore said. “We’ve got to learn from it. We’ve got to persevere. We’ve got to get better.”
REDS’ CHAPMAN: COMFORTABLE AT LAST
Left-hander Aroldis Chapman’s pitching line for the season is something to behold:
IP 10.1, H 3, R 0, BB 2, K 18.
Chapman, 24, averaged 7.4 walks per nine innings last season. He had not issued one this season until allowing two against the Cubs on Sunday, yet still pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
What has changed?
“Any number of things,” Reds pitching coach Bryan Price says. “But maybe more than anything, he’s just getting comfortable in his surroundings.
“That doesn’t answer the mechanical question of how you go from 41 walks in 50 innings to throwing enough strikes. But he’s interacting with his teammates a little bit better, being a bigger part of the team.
“That comes in part with understanding the language and even more important with understanding the system and trying to find mesh ways with it.”
Chapman defected from Cuba in July 2009. This is his second full season in the majors. And the early expectations on him were so high, he carried a unique burden when he did not pitch perfectly – or even when he allowed his first hitter to reach base.
“You could see the life rush out of his body,” Price says.
The Reds worked Chapman as a starter this spring, and Price says that it led to the pitcher’s most rapid development since joining the team. Chapman greatly improved his slider, Price says, and worked on his split-fingered fastball, a pitch that he had used in Cuba.
He pitched well enough to crack the Reds’ rotation, but the team had five healthy starters and injuries to closer Ryan Madson and setup man Nick Masset created a need in relief.
“That being said, there is no question that Chapman is a top prospect as a starter, no doubt about it,” Price says.
THE QUENTIN CONUNDRUM
I reported Saturday on my “Full Count” video about how the changes in draft-pick compensation might make the White Sox more inclined to trade catcher A.J. Pierzynski, a potential free agent.
Outfielder Carlos Quentin, Pierzynski’s former teammate in Chicago, likely will be in a similar position with the Padres.
Quentin, recovering from right-knee surgery, could return the first week of May and emerge as a valuable trade chip in July.
But if he does not perform as expected, his trade value will drop and the Padres will be even less inclined to extend him a one-year qualifying offer for draft-pick compensation. The amount of that offer – predetermined by a formula and the same for all potential free agents – is expected to be around $12 million.
One-year deals aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but the Padres won’t want to give Quentin that substantial a raise from $7.05 million. Then again, their options aren’t great. The team is not deep in outfield prospects, and Kyle Blanks is headed for season-ending shoulder surgery and his second lost season in three years.
A two-year contract for Quentin at say, $18 to $20 million, might appeal to the Padres. But Quentin probably would accept such a deal only if he were coming off a mediocre season, at which point the club might balk, anyway.
A trade, then, would appear to make the most sense – but the new CBA also diminishes the appeal of potential free agents who are dealt in the middle of the season.
Only players who have been with their clubs for an entire season are subject to compensation. In other words, the acquiring team might be less inclined than in the past to part with prospects for a potential free agent, knowing that it won’t get draft picks if the player departs.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote a revealing column Friday about Alex Rodriguez’s struggles against lefties. A-Rod batted .295 against them from 1994 to 2009, but has hit only .224 with a plummeting home-run rate in the two-plus seasons since.
When I asked A-Rod about the issue, he told me that lefties pitch him more carefully now because he is one of the few right-handed sluggers in the Yankees’ lineup (though the Yankees’ two switch-hitters, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, are stronger from the right side).
Rodriguez, however, acknowledged that he needs to make sure he swings at strikes against lefties – and take advantage when he gets pitches to hit.
“I don’t look at two years,” he said. “I look at a much larger sample.”
A ‘TEX’ MESSAGE – LEFT-HANDED!
As I reported on Saturday’s MLB on Fox broadcast, Teixeira achieved something with his three-run homer off Red Sox righty Matt Albers that he failed to do all of last season – hit a homer to the opposite field batting left-handed.
Teixeira, tired of losing points on his batting average when hitting into the shift, has adopted a more closed stance from the left side with the goal of better using the whole field.
His logic: If he gets one hit per week to the opposite field, his batting average will return to its previous levels. Sure enough, with one more hit per week last season, he would have batted .292 instead of .248.
When I mentioned to Teixeira after the game that his homer was his first opposite-field shot from the left side since 2010, he smiled knowingly and said, “This is the place to do it,” referring to Fenway.
He hit 24 homers batting left-handed last season – 23 to right and one to center, according to STATS LLC. Thanks to STATS’ Matt Benson for the quick research on Saturday.
Attention, deadline shoppers! Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez threw seven scoreless innings against the Dodgers on Sunday, holding Matt Kemp hitless.
Rodriguez’s contract turns off many clubs – he is owed $10 million this season and $13 million next season, and his $13 million club option for 2014 becomes a player option if he is traded.
Still, his ERA-plus since 2008 is the 14th best in the majors among pitchers with at least 100 starts, according to baseball-reference.com.
John Danks, Mark Buehrle, Matt Garza and James Shields are among the pitchers who fare worse in that span in ERA-plus, which is ERA adjusted to league and ballpark.
SCORE ONE FOR THE HUMAN TOUCH
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, one of the game’s best, deserves credit for the turnaround of right-hander Phil Humber, who pitched a perfect game against the Mariners on Saturday.
But don’t forget the White Sox’s advance scout, Brian Little, who has now prepared reports on opponents for two perfect games and one no-hitter, all in a span of just over five years.
In addition to Humber’s perfect game, Mark Buerhle threw a no-hitter against the Rangers on April 18, 2007 and a perfect game against the Rays on July 23, 2009.
Little, like most scouts, does not seek credit – “I just keep writing guys up. It takes execution from the pitchers and catchers,” he says.
But at a time when many teams are eliminating their advance scouts and relying solely on video, it’s worth remembering the value of having eyes and ears at the ballpark.
NO OFFENSE, SEATTLE!
Things weren’t much better for the Mariners in Tacoma than they were in Seattle on Saturday.
After Humber pitched his perfect game, the Giants’ Triple A Fresno affiliate held the Mariners’ Tacoma club to one hit in a 12-0 rout.
Designated hitter Luis Jimenez, who turns 30 on May 7, “delivered” the hit with two outs in the fourth inning. Tacoma also managed three walks off left-hander Brian Burres, who pitched seven innings, and righty Mitch Lively, who went two.
In all, the Mariners went a combined 1-for-56 at Triple A and in the majors.
AROUND THE HORN
• Yes, White Sox DH Adam Dunn has struck out 24 times in 57 at-bats, but he also is batting .246/.348/.509 and looks much improved at the plate.
“He’s staying on balls longer, getting the barrel of the bat through the zone,” one scout says. “He looks a lot more comfortable. He’s seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand better.”
The White Sox’s other expensive enigma, right fielder Alex Rios, is off to an even better start – he’s batting .333/.396/.511, and is 10-for-20 with three extra-base hits in his last six games.
Second baseman Gordon Beckham and third baseman Brent Morel? Don’t ask.
• Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz pitched up in the zone against the Yankees on Friday, prompting some scouts to question whether his back was preventing him from driving the ball down.
Buchholz, who missed more than three months with a stress fracture in his lower back last season, said he was fine physically, but just couldn’t get his pitches where he wanted.
• The Indians went 7-2 on their trip to Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland, their bullpen allowing just two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings over the last six games.
One emerging weapon: Lefty Nick Hagadone, who arrived from the Red Sox in the Victor Martinez trade along with right-handed starter Justin Masterson.
The Indians still consider their ‘pen a work in progress; hence, their trade with the Braves for righty Jairo Asencio at the end of spring training. Righty Jeremy Accardo is another option at Triple A.
• Some rival execs were surprised that the Reds signed second baseman Brandon Phillips to a six-year, $72.5 million extension, noting that two of the team’s best prospects, Billy Hamilton and Didi Gregorius, are middle infielders.
Gregorius is the shortstop at Double A, Hamilton at High A. Gregorius eventually could challenge Zack Cozart at short. Hamilton could move to second base.
• Yankees manager Joe Girardi wore a wristband at Fenway in honor of the “Will to Live” Foundation, an organization dedicated to preventing teen suicide.
Former Red Sox pitcher John Trautwein and his wife Susie founded the organization after losing their 15-year-old son Will to suicide in Oct. 2010.
Girardi caught Trautwein when the two were teammates at Northwestern.