I’m sure by now everyone has either seen, heard or read about Roy Halladay’s last outing against the Marlins Monday night. For the few of you who haven’t here’s a brief summary. Doc only faced three batters Monday night, walking two of them. Of the 16 pitches he threw only five were strikes. His fastball topped out at 83 mph. Doc was charged with one ER and his only loss in this, his 6th start since coming back from shoulder surgery.
That wasn’t Doc on the mound Monday night, but a shell of the man he once was. He’s lost a good deal of size and strength due to a dietary issue that was recently revealed. It’s no secret Doc wanted to pitch, but he should have never been allowed just 3 1/2 months removed from shoulder surgery. This was a foolish decision by a desperate Phils organization. The Phillies medical staff and Ruben Amaro Jr.’s judgment must be called into question for bringing Doc back this year, despite Halladay’s desire to return to the mound.
At Philly Sports Rant we’ve been closely monitoring Docs comeback attempt and have kept you updated along the way. After the game Monday night I was hesitant to write this article, as it seemed like everyone was too quick to write Doc’s obituary. They were popping up all over the Internet within minutes of him leaving the mound. I was in no rush to write a post-mortem on Roy Halladay’s career. I wanted some time to reflect on the best starting pitcher I’d seen in a Phils uniform since Lefty. I also didn’t want to rush to judgment or make a knee-jerk reaction regarding Doc’s future in the game of baseball – if indeed there still is one.
After spending days pouring over Doc’s stats, how he has pitched in his comeback effort, looking at video clips from his first two years in Philly followed by viewing clips of the 2012 season through his last six starts, I’ve come to several conclusions about the man I consider the greatest right handed starter to wear a Phillies uniform since Jim Bunning. Like Doc, Bunning also spent four years in Philly, however they were all healthy seasons in which Bunning averaged 40 starts a season – the norm for that era. They were roughly the same age too, as Bunning spent his age 32-35 seasons In Philadelphia. Doc’s been here in his age 33-36 seasons.
In my opinion Halladay was not only a better pitcher than Bunning, but a much better pitcher. While Bunning failed to get into the HOF in his 15 annual votes he was eventually selected by the Veterans Committee in 1996, I expect Halladay to be a first ballot Hall of Famer – a still rare event saved for the best of the best. In over 1,000 less innings pitched Halladay has a higher WAR than Bunning, won two Cy Young Awards (something Bunning never accomplished) and was the best pitcher in baseball for a 10-year period beginning in 2002. Any player who was the best at their position over 10 years is a HOFer in my book. In reality I’d have to say Halladay was actually the best right handed pitcher for the Phils since the great Robin Roberts. When you consider Doc only spent two healthy seasons in Philadelphia that’s amazing. That’s how good Doc was.
Unfortunately “was” is the operative word when speaking about Roy Halladay. In a Philly Sports Rant article published on September 5th we titled the first “Should Doc Be Back Next Year” article, already looking ahead to 2014. At that time Halladay had made only three starts in his comeback attempt. It wasn’t what we saw so much as what Doc said that led us to the conclusion he will never be the same pitcher who was in a class by himself for 10 years. Doc said “I’m dealing with different mechanics than I had before, a different arm slot.” It was that singular statement that told this lifelong baseball follower and fan that Doc would never be the same again. A different arm slot = a different pitcher. I don’t care how the pundits tried to spin it, twist it, remind us of Halladay’s incredible work ethic or baseball IQ, the days of Doc dominating are over.
The next question to be answered is this…is Doc’s career over? In a word – NO. Doc does have an incredible work ethic, an unparalleled drive in today’s world of professional mercenaries..uh I mean athletes, a deep love for the game and a burning desire to pitch in a World Series. I expect Doc to sign a one-year deal with a small guarantee filled with incentives for games started and/or innings pitched.
In what is a most definitely a pitching starved baseball world someone will take a low risk, high reward chance that Doc can still be an effective starter. Some GM’s will take that chance because there’s so little to lose. The rationale will be with an offseason of rest, rebuilding and strengthening his body/shoulder, and coming to camp healthy and hungry, Doc can possibly be a solid # 3. Doc is a proud man, and next to pitching in a World Series I can’t think of anything that would bring him greater professional satisfaction than to prove his doubters wrong.
I know how hard Halladay trains and understand he’s an intellectual in the art of pitching, however I remain one of those doubters. When you factor in everything that’s happened the past two years I just don’t see it. In 2012 we already witnessed a huge decline in Doc’s ability as his ERA jumped over two full runs runs from the 2011 season and his numbers across the board took massive hits.
The big question Phillies fans want answered is will their GM be the one to sign Halladay to a one-year, low risk deal? They look at the Phils rotation and only see Hamels and Lee. They’re hopeful Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the real deal but we don’t know yet. The Phaithful have never really warmed up to Kendrick, and now after his melt down in the second-half there’s very little love for him.
Just yesterday Amaro said you can never have too much pitching depth. We agree as we watched the Phils use 10 starting pitchers this year. We know Amaro loves signing older players and has an especially warm spot for fan favs…so why not resign Doc over Kendrick to at least add depth?
The downside to signing Doc is the Phils will initially be committing one of their five rotation spots to him. The Phils won’t ask him to start Spring Training with the intention of pitching long relief. I know if Doc doesn’t perform the Phils can then put him in the pen, the DL or even release him, but who takes his spot if you don’t specifically plan for another starter to be here? Planning on Halladay to be at least a # 3 starter is just too large a gamble if the Phils genuinely want to contend.
Doc’s more than just down on the much talked about velocity. His entire game has changed. Irregardless of all the great qualities Doc possesses and used to make himself into a Hall of Fame pitcher, there’s just too much empirical evidence to believe that after all he’s been through he’s going to find the fountain of youth this winter. I don’t know which of the doctors said the surgery Halladay was undergoing would turn the clock back on his shoulder 2-3 years, but I agree with Ricky Bo when he says that’s one of the stupidest things he’s ever heard.
Doc will be 37 next May (an age where great healthy pitchers have historically shown significant decline) I just don’t see the miracle that almost appears to be a necessity for Doc to be a # 3 starter. If he’s a #5 when they break camp, well they’re a dime a dozen. If Halladay can only be a # 5 in Philly he’s not worth the potential distractions if/when things go bad or he gets hurt. It would be a media feeding frenzy that would only distract from what the team’s trying to accomplish.
Halladay came to camp in 2013 telling everyone he felt great, but he never found the velocity on his fastball all spring. When the regular season began Doc struggled more than he ever had in his career – on all levels, not just what the gun told us about his 4-seam fastball. After seven starts he was shut down with a 2-4 record and an ERA of 8.65. The man who recently lead the league five straight seasons (2007-2011) in complete games was now averaging under five innings per start. Doc underwent shoulder surgery that necessitated he change his arm slot upon his ill-advised return. Not only couldn’t he get any zip on his pitches, but now the most accurate pitcher as defined by SO/BB ratio was handing out more free passes than he was striking people out. His inability to get hitters to swing and miss dropped precipitously, to 8% of his pitches.
Sadly we see Doc likely to suffer a fate similar to that of Steve Carlton at the end of his brilliant career. If the Phils brain trust of Amaro, Profrock, Green, Wade, Wolever and Sandberg see it differently there’s a chance Doc comes back. Sandberg’s opinion may carry more weight than Charlie Manuel did in personnel decisions, especially in his first year guiding the team.
With so few options in free agency to bolster the lineup would it not behoove the Phils to upgrade the starting pitching with a Matt Garza or Ervin Santana? They can afford either player. Garza will be the prize FA pitcher and may command around 90 million dollars over five years. A starting rotation of Lee, Hamels, Garza or Santana, Gonzalez & Pettibone has the potential to be the toughest rotation in all of baseball.
What Doc’s going through we’ve seen too many times in sports. There’s Boxers who think they have one last championship bout in them. Hockey players who don’t feel the lactic acid buildup burning and turning their once swift legs to rubber. Basketball players who can no longer fly. It happens to all the greats, and when injured the descent is accelerated. Sadly, they don’t see it or refuse to acknowledge it. The truly great ones think they can push the sun back up in the sky one more time when reality is it’s setting behind their once broad shoulders.
The greats ones know they’re great. They have to. It has nothing to do with modesty. When you’re truly great at something you know it. Acknowledging you’re no longer great, at least to yourself, must be harder than people who’ve never experienced greatness in their lives can imagine.
Roy Halladay was one of the great pitchers of Major League Baseball. He’ll always be remembered in Philadelphia for his perfect game against the Marlins and the 2nd no-hitter in playoff history – in his first postseason start against the Reds. We’ll remember the unanimous CY Young Award Doc brought home in 2010, then finishing as runner up to Clayton Kershaw in 2011, effectively passing the torch to baseball’s next superstar pitcher. We’ll remember all the complete games, the shutouts, the sheer overall dominance – and the confidence we shared in a Phils victory when Doc’s name was in the lineup.
Above all the great pitching performances Doc gave us, what I think fans will remember most about Roy Halladay are two things; the first was professionalism and tireless work ethic. That sold better than cheesesteaks in this blue-collar town. Philly fans will rip their hearts out for their athletes when they see they’re all in, all the time. The second remembrance, the one I feel will reverberate throughout baseball when Doc finally does walk away, is the class he displayed both on and off the field. The man was a warrior on the mound. His blood boiling with a competitive fever we see far too little of in today’s athletes. But even with that fever Doc was always the picture of calm and cool, the professional’s professional. It’s this dichotomy that amazed fans and colleagues alike, not just in Philly and Toronto where we were fortunate enough to witness it first hand regularly, but it was picked up on in every major league city.
Goodbye and good luck Doc. It was the rarest of pleasures watching you perform for our beloved Phillies.
COMING: A video tribute to Roy Halladay