September 10, 2012
Will Roy Halladay Ever Complete a Game?
On September 14th, Roy Halladay struck out Jose Altuve with a changeup in the dirt. His catcher turned around and gave the umpire a pat, then stood up and walked toward Halladay. His teammates walked in toward the mound. It was the last out of the game, and it was the last time that Roy Halladay has been on the mound for the last out of the game. September 14th, you'll note, was last year.
Halladay has been to complete games what Yadier Molina is to catcher defense, what Giancarlo Stanton is to GIFfable home runs. In 2011, Halladay threw more complete games than any other team in the National League. From 2008 through 2011, he threw 35 of them; the San Diego Padres, by comparison, have thrown 35 complete games since 2001. Every spring, a columnist or 10 will write about the sad death of the complete game in baseball, but Roy Halladay has been the faint pulse beeping on the monitor, or perhaps the last uninfected man in a zombie hellscape, or maybe the metaphor that just keeps pushing on and on, and on. Just continuing on. A metaphor that won’t die. A metaphor that doesn’t get tired and quit, but goes the distance. What a durable metaphor.
But now here’s a different Roy Halladay, with no complete games in the 2012 season and only four or five more tries. The complete games are, of course, the least of the matter; more concerning for the Phillies would be the strikeout rate (down about a whiff per nine from his 2008-2011 peak); the walk and home run rates (both up about 25 percent); the velocity (down a mile and a half per hour from last year); and the missed time (his first since 2005). The complete games matter mostly because the complete games reflect a little bit of each of these drop-offs. And the complete games matter because they reflect just what it is we’re seeing. We’re not seeing Roy Halladay going from amazing pitcher to bad pitcher. Not at all. We’re seeing him go from amazing pitcher to really good pitcher. A guy who throws seven or eight innings. We’ve lost a singularity.
The most obvious reason for Halladay’s lack of complete games is that Halladay isn’t throwing nearly as many pitches this year. In 2011, he made 32 starts and threw 110 pitches or more 20 times. He topped 120 pitches six times, and 130 once. This year he has made 21 starts and topped 110 just twice. He hasn’t thrown 120 pitches in a game.
The Phillies are being cautious with him, particularly since he missed June with shoulder soreness. Consider August 10th: Halladay finished the eighth inning against the Cardinals. He had allowed two hits and one run in the game and had retired 12 batters in a row: seven grounders, four strikeouts, and an infield pop-up. He had made the last out the previous inning, so there was no need to pinch-hit for him. He had thrown 99 pitches. The Phillies pulled him.
That wasn’t his first start back from the DL, though. It wasn’t his second. It was his fifth, and he still wasn’t allowed to pass 100 throws. Said Halladay: