|Roy Halladay can't find the strike zone. (USATSI)|
Roy Halladay is broken. Halladay, who will take the mound Friday vs. the Cardinals, has started to decline after a decade-plus of posting elite pitching numbers. We've seen the impending signs in recent years. Halladay's velocity, which used to hover near 94 mph, has dropped. Last year, his sinker averaged 91 mph. Injuries have also taken their toll, forcing Halladay to adopt a lower arm slot. This season, Halladay is showing an even more alarming trend, one that could do him in for good. The owner of a 1.87 career BB/9, Halladay has relied on pin-point control over his career. But this season, Halladay's ability to pound the strike zone has completely deserted him. Given his worrisome trends and declining numbers in recent years, this could be the one issue that even Halladay can't overcome.
Simply looking at Halladay's walk rate this season will show how much he's struggled with his control. He's walking 10 percent of batters this year, nearly double his 5.1 percent career average. While that's a major component driving his decline, it's important to understand why he suddenly can't hit the plate.
The above chart measures Halladay's zone percentage, or his ability to throw his pitches in the strike zone. The last row shows the league average zone percentage this season. That's not a perfect measure, as some pitches might naturally have lower zone percentage if pitchers are using them as “out” pitches. Still, it gives us a starting point. Looking at the chart, both Halladay's curve and his splitter are far below the league average. It's these two pitches that seem to be driving Halladay's struggles the most.
Opposing hitters seem to have taken notice of Halladay's struggles and aren't offering at either pitch nearly as often as they have in past years. Per BrooksBaseball.net:
|Pitch||2012 Swings||2013 Swings||2012 Whiffs||2013 Whiffs|
Swing percentages are way down against Halladay's curve and splitter this season. Those have likely contributed to Halladay's declining whiff rates with both pitches as well. Either hitters have been able to read Halladay's pitches better this season, or opposing teams have gone into the year with a no swing policy against Halladay. It could also be that Halladay isn't getting himself into pitcher's counts, where hitters might be more willing to expand their strike zone and hack at one of those pitches. Given his declining velocity, zone percentages and first-pitch strikes, you could make the case for any of those scenarios.
Halladay's last start against the Marlins offered some evidence that he might be able to overcome his control problems. While it's a small sample, and the level of competition is questionable, Halladay's curve ball and splitter had strike percentages between 68 and 70 percent. That's a significant upgrade over Halladay's numbers in his first two starts. His whiff rates were still not great, but, again, it was one start.
Whether Halladay turned a corner in his last start will be tested Friday. Halladay is set to face off against the Cardinals. Though St. Louis has struggled offensively this year, it was one of the better offensive teams last season. Halladay turned into a below-average pitcher last season after velocity and arm slot woes sapped his effectiveness. If he can't improve on his new-found inability to find the strike zone, the end could be near for one of the best pitchers we've seen in the last decade.
*Wink of the eye to Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs.com, who assisted the author with some database research.