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.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.