We know the Phils 2013 season is over and has been since the post all-star game swoon. Even then the Phils were just hanging by a thread, barely playing .500 baseball. After the Braves got off to a 12-1 start in April they went sideways for a three months and came into the All-Star break at 54-41. Starting on April 17th through July 14th the Braves went 42-40, yet still managed to hold on to first place the entire time.
The Phils were only half a game behind the NL East defending champion Nationals and 6.5 games behind the division leading Braves at the All-Star break. Rueben Amaro Jr. deluded himself into thinking the Phils might actually contend and couldn’t decide if they should be buyers or sellers at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. The GM who had been known to make bold moves in previous July’s sat on his hands while other teams were wheeling and dealing. Meanwhile the Phils swiftly fell out of the race.
The Braves have gone 31-13 since the break while the Nats continue to flounder around .500. The Phils came out of the All-Star break and won five of their next 24 before unceremoniously dumping Charlie Manuel on the day he was to be honored for winning his 1,000th game. It was like Amaro woke up that morning and had an epiphany when he looked at the standings and found the team he built 21.5 games out of first place.
It was time for a change…and it’s also time to start asking questions about what the Phils can do to get back to the playoffs in 2014. Ruben Amaro refuses to use the word “rebuilding”, instead he euphemistically tells us the Phils are “re-tooling.” OK, so let’s indulge Amaro here as we start to ask the questions he needs to find the answers to, and let us begin with should the Phillies bring back Roy Halladay next year in their attempt to re-tool the Phillies?
It may seem a bit premature to begin asking these questions, but the only entertainment the Phils are providing is watching the kids play and discussing what the 2014 Phillies are going to look like. Halladay is a fan favorite and we know Amaro loves bringing players like him back, regardless of their age, production or decline in play. This time we’re talking about a one-time premier pitcher, an Ace among Aces who has endeared himself to the Philly faithful with his work ethic, professionalism and one time dominance.
Roy Halladay will turn 37 next May, is coming off shoulder surgery and his second sub par season in a row. He’s had three starts since returning from the DL where he’s looked less than impressive. If not for a wild 18 inning game against the Diamondbacks on August 24th Doc may still be doing rehab stints in the minors. He was forced into major league action on Sunday, 8/25 when the Phils used their starter for that day the previous night. He won the game after being notified he’d be pitching at CBP about 13 hours beforehand. It was a bizarre and fun weekend. Sure, Doc needed a great defensive play by Roger Bernadina to bring a 2-run HR back from over the CF fence, but he still won and only allowed two earned runs. In his three starts he’s pitched 17 innings, allowed 14 hits, 8 ER, 9 BB’s and has struck out 8. He’s 1-0 with two no decisions. Those are the numbers. There are other numbers to consider too, like his velocity and strike percentage but we’ll get to that in a bit.
All things considered Doc hasn’t pitched bad, but he hasn’t pitched well either and appears to be a shell of his former self. What Amaro needs to figure out is what will Doc be capable of with a 100% recovery, if indeed that’s even possible, and what would the Phils offer him if they thought he could come all the way back? What might Amaro offer him if he thought Doc could only get 80% back? In an interview last night after the Phils 3-2 loss to Washington Doc said “I’m dealing with different mechanics than I had before, a different arm slot.”That comment tells me he’ll never be the same pitcher he was.
I didn’t like it a couple weeks ago when he was talking about how Jamie Moyer got people out throwing in the low 80’s. It tells me Doc doesn’t expect the velocity to return even though he says his doctors predict it will happen eventually. What happened to turning back the clock 2-3 years on his shoulder? Why does he have to change his arm slot if the shoulder is sound? A different arm slot means a different pitcher.
I know how hard he works and know he’s an intellectual on the mound, not just a fire it up there type of pitcher. I doubt he’ll be a Phillie next year except for Amaro’s penchant for signing fan favorites. With that in mind I never say never. I don’t know if a former multiple Cy Young Award winner with pinpoint control will continue to be a fan favorite pitching this way. He has a 4.77 ERA in 3 starts which I believe can improve, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. Doc will never be close to the pitcher he was in 2010 and 2011 when he lead the league in SO/BB ratio and averaged a mere 1.2 BB’s/9 over 484.1 innings.
All in all Doc’s had a great career and he should get in the Hall of Fame if he never throws another pitch. Anybody who was the best at their position over a 10-year period should go in, and Doc was that starting pitcher between 2002 and 2011. In those years he won a Cy Young in each league, finished second twice and third once in the Cy Young voting, was an eight time all star, had three 20 win seasons and two others that he won 19 in, lead the league in complete games seven times, threw a perfect game, was only the second pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in the playoffs and had a 170-75 record. Eight of those 10 years he was with a mediocre Blue Jay team. Doc went 130-59, 71 games over .500 on a Jay’s team that had four winning seasons and four losing seasons, and averaged more losses than wins.
Currently Doc is throwing his fastball in the high 80’s. The loss in velocity doesn’t scare me nearly as much as how he’s lost that late movement on his pitches. That and his pinpoint control was what made him so tough on opposing batters. Today he doesn’t possess either quality. Aside from two years of reduced velocity and increasing walks, Doc has averaged less than 60% strikes on his pitches since coming back. He said his surgeons told him the last thing to come back will be his velocity but that won’t be until Spring Training. Perhaps the late movement is tied to the velocity, I don’t know. Perhaps it isn’t. Maybe it’s more tied to his arm slot. I’m not a pitching coach or an orthopedic surgeon so I just don’t know. To be quite frank I don’t think they know either.
One thing I do know is I’ve seen pitchers with damaged shoulders late in their career and they never made it all the way back. Most of them never even came close. For that matter many young pitchers never fully recover from shoulder surgery. What I don’t want to see is a once great pitcher chasing past glory that isn’t to be found. One of the first pitchers I ever heard that had a torn rotator cuff was Steve Carlton. Lefty was considered the strongest and best conditioned athlete in baseball. He said he was going to pitch until he was 50 and there were few who doubted he could.
In his age 37 season Carlton won his 4th Cy Young and lead the league in wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. In his age 38 season he lead the NL in innings pitched and strikeouts again, so it wasn’t just a matter of him getting old…he got injured late the following season. After offseason surgery Lefty bounced around with five different teams going 16-37 with a 5.21 ERA over four seasons. The 18 years before that he was 310-204 with a 3.04 ERA. Lefty was considered the greatest left hander of his era and the 2nd best lefty of all-time behind Warren Spahn. It was sad watching him bounce around from team to team getting lit up everywhere he went.
I know Halladay will attempt a comeback with somebody next year, but I don’t believe it should be with the Phillies. I want to remember the great pitcher he was the two years he dominated the NL in red pinstripes. Sadly he isn’t that pitcher anymore and I don’t know of any surgery that turns back the hands of time on a man who has to perform at 100% peak efficiency to be great. If he had to change his arm slot to pitch again that tells me the surgery may have repaired the damage enough to pitch, but it’s literally impossible for him to pitch like he used to. It’s time for Amaro to move on and not gamble on Doc finding the fountain of youth in Spring Training next year.
Good luck wherever you go Doc. I know you won’t quit until it’s painfully obvious you must. It was only two years, but you are the greatest right handed pitcher I ever saw in a Phillies uniform.