As any of my Twitter followers know, I’m the first person to focus on the negatives about our Philly sports teams, mostly in fun of corse. This week has seen a level of panic about the condition of Roy Halladay that has really been unprecedented in the annals of Philadelphia sports athletes. The endless live-tweeting of his most recent start by local and national beat reporters was almost comical. At the conclusion of his start, the opinions of the media were basically writing Roy’s professional obituary. In breaking with my usual tradition, I have few worries about Doc, let alone the Phillies’ fortunes without him being in Cy-Young condition.
The company line from local media that has been trumpeted repeatedly as Spring Training dragged on and Doc labored was that the Phillies have no chance without him returning to the Cy-Young form that he exhibited his first few years with the team. More than one national sports “analyst” has declared that without a healthy Doc, the Phillies (who they have pretty much written off in favor of the Nationals and Braves) have no shot at the post-season whatsoever. I can’t disagree more, for reasons that go well beyond his individual performance.
There’s no doubt that Halladay is nowhere near the pitcher he was in 2010-11, when he won 40 games, a Cy Young, pitched a regular season perfect game and a playoff no-hitter. His 11-win total last season was not even as telling as his 4-plus ERA, which was even more concerning. In addition, his penchant for pressuring the coaches to allow him to stay in games where he may be struggling has also worked against him, especially last season, when he arguably should have been shut down in late summer for good. Curt Schilling had a similar way of dictating to his coaches when he would leave a game, the difference was that he was younger and more effective at the time. Doc, who will turn 36 in just a few weeks, is seeing his effectiveness wane significantly, but he is far from completely finished. What the “experts” fail to realize regarding the importance of Doc is that when he was at his peak of effectiveness during those first two seasons here, the offense was non-existent in the post-season. Want to know how agitating that must be to a fierce competitor like Halladay to get no run support? Ask Cliff Lee, who despite an ERA one run lower than Halladay’s last season, had a grand total of 6 wins. Obviously the difference between a 20-win Doc and a 10-win Doc are significant, but the issue with the Phillies since their run began in 2007 has never been the pitching, it has been the lack of offensive production in the post-season since 2009. That is one reason why I don’t feel panicked about a sub-par Doc in the rotation.
Another reason why fans shouldn’t feel that the season is doomed without an effective Roy Halladay is that Ruben Amaro has assured that the youngest and most effective of the “Big Three” starters did not escape to the West Coast in Cole Hamels. Losing Cole, in addition to a sub-par Halladay, would definitely cause me to doubt this team’s playoff chances this season. There are no more valuable commodities in baseball then a young, stellar left-handed pitcher, and the fact that we have one as our number one arm should provide comfort to the fans going into Opening Day as well. In addition, despite the worrisome performance of Halladay in Spring Training so far this season, several other factors are also encouraging, notably the offensive performance of Domonic Brown, a key to the outfield puzzle. In addition, a healthy Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have been hitting the cover off of the ball. Given that they are the two offensive keys to any productive season, that is never a bad thing. Finally, there is the unprecedented decision by skipper Charlie Manuel late in Spring Training to finally move Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot, and bat a more prototypical hitter for that position in Ben Revere. This decision may be a year too late (Juan Pierre should have been there all of last season), but I believe that move alone could translate into at least 10 more wins that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Revere possesses the speed and discipline more attuned to a leadoff man, and luckily Charlie realizes that as well.
The fans should remember that this team won a World Series ring in 2008 with one stud pitcher in Cole Hamels, who didn’t even win a Doc-like 20 games. Obviously our offense was younger, faster and more potent with the long ball, but they also did one thing that they haven’t done with men on base from 2010 on, and that’s hit. Perhaps the local and national baseball pundits who have already crowned the Nationals division champs and have the Braves in the playoffs as well, and have written Doc Halladay’s epitaph based on Spring Training performance, should recognize that this team’s success or failure isn’t rooted in what occurs on the mound, but rather what goes on between the ears of the Phillies’ hitters. That’s why I won’t be writing off Roy Halladay or the 2013 Phillies just yet.Tags: Ben Revere, Charlie Manuel, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, Roy Halladay, Ruben Amaro, spring training