It looks like Roy Halladay is done — at least for a while, as he is expected to hit the disabled list with a shoulder problem — but the real question is if he is Done. He’s about to turn 36 and he’s aching in the worst body part for a pitcher. Just how bad is this news?
David Murphy, writing in his High Cheese blog for philly.com, might have put the central question best in his stream-of-consciousness style reaction to the news that the Doc will have to see more doctors:
To say that Halladay is “injured” is to suggest that there is something about him that can be fixed. Since last summer I have gotten the sense that Halladay knows that whatever is wrong with his body is irreversible, and that his only option is to grit his teeth and make some changes and battle through. Shoot, it might not even be accurate to say that there is something “wrong” with his body. His body is acting quite normal for a human body its age.
If you knew nothing about the current news, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Halladay was just naturally aging and that he could right the ship somewhat. After all, he has the highest swinging strike rate of his career, he’s not even a mile per hour off of his fastball velocity from last year, and his ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio — though lower than it was earlier in his career (over two in Toronto) — remains unchanged from his work in 2012 (1.39 last year, 1.31 this year). It’s just that he’s averaged a walk rate under two per nine for ten years and suddenly he’s walking a batter every two innings.
But that last thing is really strange. Of course, it takes a half a year for walk rate to stabilize for pitchers, but watching the Doc flail in the zone is novel. And the walk rate peripherals are no kinder to him. He’s never had a first-strike rate under 60% (that’s usually where the league average sits), and now he’s in danger of falling below 50% in that category. Batters aren’t reaching on pitches, either, so they’re not helping by turning balls into strikes for him.
We could look into his cutter usage (it’s down) and try to see which pitch is failing him. Or try to dissect his heatmaps. It certainly doesn’t look like he’s got no more usefulness left if you’re just looking at his stats.
But the mere fact of his age (35+) and going on the disabled list for a shoulder injury, that mere fact is a harbinger of doom. Players over the age of 35 that went on the DL for any sort of shoulder injury only averaged 59 innings over the course of the rest of their career. So if Roy Halladay pitches 60 innings next year, he’ll be ahead of the game.
There are worse ways to slice the numbers. Of the 62 old pitchers that have gone on the DL for a shoulder injury since 2002, 32 never pitched another inning. 44 of them never managed 50 innings over the rest of their careers. A grand total of six starting pitchers managed more than 100 innings — John Smoltz (106), Pedro Martinez (153.2), Kenny Rogers (173.2), John Burkett (181.2), Tim Wakefield (424.1), and Orlando Hernandez (438.1).
In other words, you’re banking on Roy Halladay to be Orlando Hernandez from here on out if you think he’s even got a full season left in his arm after this year. And Orlando Hernandez himself wasn’t that fantasy relevant for most of that time.
If you’re still looking for good news… let’s look at this by age. 35-year-olds had better outcomes: Only five of the 15 never pitched again. Another five never managed 50 innings. But two of the best outcomes on the list — Tom Gordon and Orlando Hernandez — first felt shoulder tweaks at 35. And 36 is okay, although already worse. 11 of 17 never pitched again, another two didn’t manage five innings, and Elmer Dessens, Pedro Martinez, Brian Shouse and Trevor Hoffman are the happy stories.
If you have space on your DL, by all means carry the doctor. But if you need every inch of your roster, you may want to consider dropping him, especially in keeper leagues where you don’t need 59 more innings next season.
Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman for the DL query.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.