Down Doc, Up Brown
The Phillies returned home last night, and most things in camp went well except for Roy Halladay. I don’t include Darin Ruf here because I think people in the organization hoped Ruf would fare well in the outfield, although they did not necessarily expect it. And starting him in Triple-A isn’t the worst thing in the world, nor is it a crushing blow to the team’s chances. But Halladay’s importance is obvious, and the fact he had so many issues and struggles leaves one enormous question mark on the mound.
I said a couple weeks ago I thought the Phillies would jump at the opportunity if somebody told them Halladay would finish 14-10 with a 3.80 ERA in 30-32 starts this season.
I believe that even more today.
I’ve never seen a premiere pitcher struggle like this in the spring. I mean, I’ve certainly seen great pitchers struggle in spring training before, but it never looked like this. He labored, he struggled to command his pitches, he lacked velocity, he didn’t have a feel for his cutter, which has been a money pitch for him. But if you’re an optimist, then you believe each of Halladay’s explanations for his struggles following his last five starts. He mentioned “dead arm” March 6, when his velocity dipped for the first time. He said he felt lethargic March 12, when the Tigers battered him in 2 2/3 innings. An extra bullpen session in between starts, plus the rigors of a more intense workout program, sapped his energy, he said. He promised he would pull back before his next start and there would be improvements. But he suffered from a stomach virus March 17, and lasted just one inning against the Orioles. Then last Saturday in a minor league game against Toronto’s Triple-A hitters, Halladay allowed 11 of 18 base runners to reach base. He blamed a “mushy mound” for his lack of velocity and said throwing more hard stuff against minor league hitters hurt him. Then yesterday he allowed two runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays with Toronto picking up three of those outs on the bases. He said he found it difficult to grip the baseball because the balls were not rubbed up with mud properly before the game. The Phillies also said he is still trying to recover his strength following his sickness.
Again, each of these explanations are completely plausible, but coming off last season’s struggles it would unwise to take them at face value.
If the over/under on Halladay’s ERA this season is 4.19 (average ERA for starters last year) I’d have to take the over.
Conversely, Domonic Brown has been Halladay’s polar opposite. He has looked incredible this spring. I wrote earlier how Brown’ spring training numbers could indicate a successful 2013. John Dewan said players that show a 200-point increase in their spring training slugging percentage from their career slugging percentage have performed significantly above their career marks in the upcoming season 60 percent of the time. Brown finished the spring with a .675 slugging percentage compared to a .388 career slugging percentage. That is a .287 difference, which puts him in that group. Like I wrote in my story, eight of the 12 Phillies previously on Dewan’s list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. Of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in ’11) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in ’05). Maybe Brown will make Dewan 9 for 13.
If the over/under on Brown’s slugging percentage is .428 (average slugging percentage for outfielders last season), I’m taking the over.
Ryan Howard also had a great spring, compiling a .663 slugging percentage, but his career slugging percentage is .551 so he fell .088 short of Dewan’s mark. But Howard’s slugging percentage the previous two seasons is just .468, so maybe he is in line for a bounce back season, too.
Opening Day is three days away.
Predictions for Halladay, Brown and Howard?