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Is Roy Halladay still a top-30 pitcher?

4/4/2013

Thirty pitchers started a Major League Baseball game Wednesday, but it's safe to say the most attention was given to a two-time Cy Young Award winner who just happened to be the first pitcher off the draft board for 2012 and until recently was a top-100 overall choice this season. Of course, things are awfully different now for Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay, and after his unusual and historic performance in Atlanta on Wednesday, it's hard to be enthusiastic about him.

Halladay simply doesn't look like the same pitcher he used to be, an issue not only for the Phillies but fantasy owners as well. His loss of velocity was a popular spring training topic, but Halladay's velocity seemed better Wednesday as he hit the low 90s with many fastballs. Then again, all the big Atlanta hits came off that now-mortal fastball. Halladay's off-speed curveballs and changeups certainly had movement; they were responsible for nine of the 10 outs he recorded coming via strikeout. His mechanics didn't seem to be an issue, and he was able to repeat his delivery, especially after a rough first inning. Halladay couldn't locate his cutter, which is a critical out pitch for him, and when he threw it over the plate, the Braves made him pay. It was an odd night, to be certain.

The final result in Atlanta's authoritative 9-2 win -- let's give credit to the Braves' terrific, deep lineup and opposing hurler Paul Maholm -- included Halladay permitting six hits and five earned runs over 3 1/3 strange innings, fanning nine and walking an uncharacteristic three hitters. Only 55 of his 95 pitches were strikes. He allowed two home runs, including the first big-league hit for enticing catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis. It should be noted that the Braves have had Halladay's number in recent seasons; he was winless in his past six outings against them with a 7.44 ERA.

This night was very un-Halladay-like indeed. Nobody in the past 98 years, and perhaps more, had fanned nine hitters in so short an outing. Halladay needed a ridiculous 40 pitches to escape the first inning, which included a Justin Upton home run, and while he might have settled down after that, it seemed the eager Braves were willing to swing at just about everything, sensing a pitcher on the ropes. Halladay piled up the K's and showed better velocity, but the concerns from March spring games remain. Something is amiss, prompting Halladay after the game to tell reporters, "I'm going to fix it. It will be fixed. And the results will be better."

Fantasy owners can only hope so. If you already own Halladay, you don't cut him. You don't sell him for the likes of Gattis or Maholm, either. You wait. You hope he makes adjustments. Hey, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux adjusted late in his career when he wasn't the same guy, relying more on guile and smarts than pure stuff. Halladay doesn't appear hurt. He couldn't locate, and against lesser offenses, which pretty much every offense is, he will get by more often than not. He won't hit 95 pitches during the fourth inning. He'll work hard and adapt, but this is hardly the official end of the line for relevancy. Unfortunately, he's also not close to a top-20 pitcher, not at this point.

A month ago, I predicted Halladay would make 25 starts with a 3.80 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP and a reduced strikeout rate of around 7.5 K/9, which would still bring roughly 150 strikeouts in 180 innings. But I also thought he was hurt then. Now I could see more starts, perhaps 30-32, but scouts watching this performance had to have seen that Halladay was relying on hitters being overaggressive; patient hitters will make him throw strikes. The optimist can still see Halladay finishing as a top-30 pitcher, but if I had any drafts pending, I wouldn't be the one choosing him. My advice is to not trade for the pitcher who used to carry fantasy rosters, not unless the price really is right. If he's out there on free agency, sure, go ahead and add him if you have the space. His fantasy value could be closer to an Ian Kennedy or an Anibal Sanchez or a Lance Lynn, but hey, that's still worth owning. It's just not what you hoped to get from him.

Box score bits (NL): Tim Lincecum beat Josh Beckett, but both pitchers are shells of their former selves. Lincecum threw 46 strikes and 45 balls. Beckett, even at home, has little left. Do not buy low. … There was much conjecture about how Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker would tailor his lineup with Ryan Ludwick out for months. Aiming to split lefties Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, he opted for second baseman Brandon Phillips at cleanup. It's odd, but Phillips did whack a three-run homer. He'll likely collect more RBIs if he keeps hitting here, but score fewer runs. … I do think the Miami Marlins will score a run this season. Giancarlo Stanton looks frustrated, but he's going to knock in 100 runs. Still. … Break up the New York Mets! It's no surprise that Lucas Duda is hitting. He's not a big leaguer for his defense. His Wednesday homer came off lefty Clayton Richard, which is a nice sign. … Matt Harvey toyed with the San Diego Padres' lineup. Only thing holding Harvey back is a potential innings limit, but enjoy his five months. … Atlanta's Gattis can hit, and he's fine behind the plate, but I doubt the Braves keep him as a backup to Brian McCann. That's what Gerald Laird is for. It's why I'm cautious on Gattis for 2013.

Box score bits (AL): Right-hander Ervin Santana made his Kansas City Royals debut and didn't look too bad. Well, other than the three home runs he allowed. Still, there is bounce-back potential for him. He fanned eight Chicago White Sox, too. … Texas Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando fanned 10 Houston Astros and didn't allow a run, certainly not a surprise considering the foe. However, I still regard Ogando as a sell-high option in July. … I don't think what Chris Davis accomplished in 2012 was a fluke, and he's certainly off to a great start. He can be streaky, though. … New York Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda was erratic before taking a line drive off his hand and leaving early. In his case, leaving early was a good thing. It didn't look like a serious injury. … Don't get too excited about Boston Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias hitting .556 so far. That's not him, and his position is Stephen Drew's job to lose. … Drew Stubbs stole the first of his 35 bases. Of course, he might not raise his current .222 batting average much. … Speaking of low batting averages, Mike Trout is hitting only .182 with four strikeouts in 11 at-bats! Look at that regression! (Ahem, buy low).