There was a time, not too long ago, when Roy Halladay the last pitcher anyone would worry about.
Nowadays, not even a near-perfect outing in Spring Training can get the Philadelphia Phillies to stop being concerned about the eldest member of their trio of aces.
Sure, there are more seeming pertinent talking points to Halladay’s latest spring start on Tuesday. There’s the fact that he pitched four scoreless innings while allowing only a pair of hits and a walk, of course, plus the incident that saw Doc let one get away from him … and all the way behind the Washington Nationals‘ Tyler Moore.
Neither might be more important, though, than just a single number related to Halladay’s day: 88.
That would be the mph reading on the radar gun for Doc’s outing, according to David Murphy for the Philadelphia Daily News. Throughout just about the entirety of his career, Halladay’s fastball velocity had sat at around 92 mph, and though Spring Training usually means a little less oomph on the fastball, that the righty’s fastball was sitting at 86-88 mph is not a positive sign.
But wait, this is Roy-freaking-Halladay we’re talking about. He’s one of, if not the best pitcher over the last decade-plus — why worry about a little drop in velocity?
Normally, that would be a sensible thought, but the harsh fact is that at age-35 (pushing 36 in May), and coming off his first significant injury since 2005, this isn’t the same Halladay that’s dominated the league for so long.
Or at least, the same type of benefit of doubt no longer applies.
Marred by a balky back that sent him to the DL for 42 games, the workhorse posted arguably his worst season in more than a decade, putting up a 4.49/1.22 ERA/WHIP, and was just a 2.5 fWAR player. His 1.04 HR/9 was his highest since 2000, and the 2.07 BB/9 was also an eight-year high.
And was it just a coincidence that his average fastball velocity dropped to 90.6 mph?
If this was the beginning of last year, Doc would have said that fears over his early radar gun numbers were unwarranted, and that would be that.
This year, however, Halladay will have to show that he can adjust to his diminished velocity, and that the back and shoulder injuries he sustained last season are in the past.
Yes, the Phillies and their fans should be concerned, and this time, the words of one of the greatest in his generation won’t be enough.