CHICAGO, IL: Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Low-velocity stories are a spring tradition. You want to be fair and give pitchers a few starts, of course. It's spring training. Training. It's a bunch of dudes training. Throwing baseballs. Swinging bats. Jogging backwards for 50 feet, stopping, then walking slowly to where they started. And it technically isn't even spring yet. This whole thing is a tease.
But when it's Roy Halladay's velocity, it's a big deal. Because Roy Halladay is a robot. There should be time to order parts before the season starts, or something. Ken Rosenthal noted the velocity dip in a recent column:
One scout said Halladay topped out at 89 mph Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins, threw from a lower arm angle and lacked bite on his changeup and sinker. Another said that Halladay does not resemble the same pitcher who comes out "like gangbusters" every spring.
March 16. Two weeks before the start of the season. And even when the season starts, and players struggle, we'll get to say that it's only April. There's still a lot more of this left.
Last season, Halladay averaged just under 90 m.p.h. in his first start of the regular season, so it's not as if he's in Barry Zito territory, scraping the bottom of the 80s like a bad VH1 special. Halladay has been in the high 80s before, and like most pitchers, his velocity fluctuates.
Halladay has been so good for so long, and so incredibly durable (six straight seasons with 220 innings or more), that he seems superhuman. It takes a blip like this to make everyone remember that he's 34. Sometimes pitchers lose it in their 30s. Don Drysdale only pitched until he was 32. Catfish Hunter didn't make it past 33.
But you know what's more common than Hall of Fame pitchers decomposing in their mid 30s? Pitchers not being especially sharp in spring training before they figure it out. If there's any Occam's Razor to shave with, it's probably that this is nothing. Yet if it's nothing, we don't get to include quotes like this:
"There's nothing wrong with him," Amaro said. "He's fine. There's no basis for the alarm."
Amaro then walked away laughing haughtily.
That's an amazing quote. Amaro is like some sort of villain on General Hospital, throwing his head up in disdain as he walked away laughing haughtily. His only regret is that he didn't have a grappling hook or any smoke bombs to make a truly diabolical escape.
And that's probably the best way to describe how big of a story this is. The Phillies' GM laughed it off. Or possibly snapped. But Halladay's probably fine. It's just that every so often, things come along to remind you not to assume that the Phillies' rotation is guaranteed to dominate the National League again. Because even though they probably will, something like this gives you a case of the what-ifs.