Roy Halladay Tinkers In Attempt to Evolve, Stay Effective

Roy Halladay Tinkers In Attempt to Evolve, Stay Effective

His last time out, when he earned that novelty-size champagne bottle with career win No. 200, Roy Halladay looked like he'd found a sustainable model for a 35-year-old with 33,000-plus pitches on his odometer that started to look like it.

This was also against the Marlins.

What gives? The numbers say Halladay’s cutter and two-seamer, and a mentality.

Doc deployed five different pitches in Game 3 last Saturday, worked an almost even split for each of them and enjoyed great results: eight innings, one run on five hits, 14 groundouts to 12 pop-ups. He only struck out two, but walked just one.

This, compared to 7 1/3 innings of 14.73 ERA ball vs. the Braves and Mets.

It's been a process for him.

He used his cutter (.583 opp BA in 2013) much less his second time out than he did his first, redistributing those to his 2-seamer. That mix didn’t work either, so he reallocated those same 10-15 pitches toward his changeup for Game 3.

Big results, but not without big change.  Brooks Baseball Pitch F/X shows he’d thrown just one changeup two starts. He threw 14 (16.2%) in his third, and things seemed to be working for him.

The changeup is something new for Halladay. Last year, according to Fangraphs, only 43 of 2,388 total pitches were changes.

In 2012, Doc tinkered with arm slots, release points – whatever he could – to try to make his cutter work. He used it in 2012 (41.7%) more than every prior year but one. Clearly, that didn’t work.

He did start using his curveball more, but that was the extent of his off-speed stuff. Until now.

A huge part of this seems to be Halladay accepting his limits. It looks like he’s starting to get that he can’t overpower guys anymore. If he hadn’t, he would’ve tried to more against Miami, not less.

That’s why he threw so few cutters and 2-seamers (.429 opp BA in 2013).

Batters are hitting just .067 against his curveball, .167 against his changeup.

That can work. Or at least that’s the idea, for when he’s not facing near-minor leaguers, as he won’t tonight in Game 2 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

As is often the case around September, when a flood of minor leaguers make it tough to track and scout their games, it’s possible that this change may soon get snuffed out by opposing pitchers.

The Phillies hope not. With John Lannan on the shelf for 6-8 weeks (if not more), and some mix of minor leaguers likely to take over at No. 5, they need Halladay to go five-six innings reliably.

Matt Hammond is the Phillies Insider and Morning Update Anchor for 97.3 ESPN in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter here.

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good, but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."