Updated: 10:15 p.m.
From an emotional standpoint, the Roy Halladay news was hard to take. Another DL stint has occurred for a pitcher who is universally respected and admired, and it’s difficult to watch.
But it’s not as difficult to watch as Halladay himself. In two starts last week he allowed 21 baserunners and 17 runs in six innings. Declines are common, but this type of precipitous decline – in which Halladay is not just less effective but flat-out different in the way he works – is not.
Halladay’s walk rate and home run have more than doubled since the start of 2012 compared to his first two years with the Phillies.
He used to avoid free passes and longballs and allow weak contact. He had mastered the art of minimizing damage. The Halladay we've seen this season can’t command or control the ball, can’t miss the sweet spot of the bat and can’t strand runners. In 2010, he left 83 percent of runners on base. In 2011, it was 78 percent. Last year, his strand rate fell to 70 percent, and this season it was an unfathomably low 51 percent. That means that half of the runners who were getting on base against Halladay were scoring.
So maybe a DL stint is actually a positive. It’s an explanation for how things got this bad. His shoulder hurt. When you feel a sting with every pitch it just isn’t possible to put the ball where you want it, with movement.
It’s also a positive in that it allows the Phillies to move on from Halladay, whether it’s short-term or long-term. You couldn’t keep sending a guy out every fifth day and wondering whether the game would be lost after the first inning.
Replacing Halladay in the rotation is the next step. The Phillies don't have veteran starting pitchers waiting in Triple A -- they released Rodrigo Lopez in spring training and let Aaron Cook walk -- but there are three young internal candidates.
A lefty with tremendous potential, Morgan is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley this season. He’s struck out 26 batters in 34 2/3 innings and allowed just 7.8 hits per nine.
Morgan is a strike-thrower. In 247 minor-league innings he’s walked 2.3 batters per nine.
A third-round pick out of Alabama in 2011, Morgan is not on the Phillies’ 40-man roster. The next two options on this list are. But that shouldn’t be a hindrance to bringing the lefty up to the majors. The Phils have a spot open on the 40-man and a few guys who could be viewed as dispensable. (B.J. Rosenberg might be one. He’s a hard thrower, but he’s struggled at Triple A this season, and his fastball has been too straight when he's appeared in the majors.)
Cloyd had major-league experience last September, but there are well-documented questions about his stuff. He throws a mid-80s fastball and needs pinpoint precision to be effective.
In 33 innings with the Phillies last season, Cloyd allowed eight home runs. That came after he went 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA at Double A and Triple A.
Cloyd has a 5.40 ERA at Triple A this season. He’s allowed 40 hits and five homers in 35 innings. His WHIP is 1.49.
Cloyd is on the 40-man roster.
Martin is also on the 40-man roster. The Phillies acquired him at the 2012 trade deadline for Shane Victorino.
Martin has the pedigree – he’s a former first-round pick. MLB.com rated him the 80th best prospect in baseball entering the season.
But he’s struggled with control throughout his minor-league career and the issues have gotten worse this season. Martin has 20 walks in 22 1/3 innings this season, and 307 BBs in 488 2/3 innings in his career.
Until the control issues improve Martin is probably a distant third to Morgan and Cloyd.
Phillies fans are pining for the hometown lefty to get the call to the bigs, but the Phillies aren't rushing him. According to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., "He's a very young kid and he's not ready for the big leagues -- period," (see story). Biddle had a great month of April, going 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA, 40 strikeouts and a .114 opponents' batting average, but he's not quite ready. On Saturday he walked four, allowed three runs and exited after getting just two outs.
Cloyd is the safe choice because he’s been up before. But Morgan has much more upside and is worth an extended look, especially if 2013 becomes more of the setup for a rebuild than a year in which the Phillies can contend. This would be the perfect time to see what Morgan has and whether he can be a legitimate piece of the Phillies’ future.
Another player to keep in mind is John Lannan, who should be back in just over a month if his recovery goes as planned. Barring another injury, the Phillies wouldn’t need another young pitcher for more than a handful of starts.