Playing the Blame Game for Roypocalypse

Doc Halladay's shoulder problem rests on all of our shoulders.

Unless you’ve been in a coma since October 8th of last year, you were not surprised to learn that Phillies ace Roy Halladay has been suffering from a balky shoulder.

His velocity has been down all season. He’s appeared exhausted on the mound. His pitch selection, as reflected by the PitchFX data on, is drastically different from last season, as Halladay seems to have abandoned his four-seam fastball and changeup to rely much more heavily on his cutter and sinker.

As Halladay labored this Saturday against last year’s nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals—sweating profusely, face gaunt, the caverns beneath his eyes almost deep enough to conceal his troubles—he was unrecognizable as the guy who finished first or second for the last two Cy Young Awards. And as he watched a grand slam off the bat of Yadier Molina sail into the cheap seats—the third last batter he’d face in an atypically short two-inning start—he may as well have been a different pitcher altogether. Adam Eaton came to mind.

After the game, the pitcher’s shoulder woes were made public. Due to Memorial Day, Halladay won’t be having his shoulder examined until today, but pitching coach Rich Dubee confirmed what many had suspected: Not only is the shoulder bothering him, but it has been for some time. (Yet another instance in which the Phils have been keeping secrets from their fans.)

No, a sore shoulder is not a death sentence. But it’s not something you want your $20 million ace complaining about. Cole Hamels’s wishful thinking notwithstanding (“I don’t think it is too serious because I play catch with him every day or so,” he told the Inquirer’s Mark Narducci), Phillies Nation is getting panicky, checking out the Iron Pigs‘ and Reading Phillies rotations, wishing for a replacement Roy.

Whether Halladay’s shoulder simply needs a little R&R or there’s a problem only a scalpel can fix, the hows and whys of the situation are not immaterial.

Much like Bob Dylan’s 1963 classic “Who Killed Davey Moore” in which Freewheelin’ Bob wonders who is responsible for the in-ring death of a young boxer (the answer: nobody, and everyone), there is more than enough blame to go around. With deepest apologies to Mr. Dylan (Happy Birthday, sir!), let’s ponder, in the manner of “Davey Moore,” just who’s to blame for the potential impending Roypocalypse:

Who hurt Leroy’s shoulder? Why and what’s the reason for?
“Not me,” says the manager,
“He finishes games like a trooper
I try to tell him to sit down
But he always greets this with a frown.”

If you’re looking for a culprit in Halladay’s struggles, manager Charlie Manuel is an easy target. He regularly defers to his ace’s stubborn insistence on finishing his games, even when the team has a big lead and despite the squad’s top-flight closer. Under Manuel’s watch, Halladay has racked up a massive number of innings pitched, which, to be fair, is not atypical for his career. What has been atypical is the 15 to 20 additional innings Halladay has thrown in the postseason each of his first two Phillies seasons. And this season, during which he’s struggled mightily, Halladay—even after his two-inning dud on Saturday—is leading the league in innings pitched. Manuel needs to start managing his expensive, aging aces like the increasingly fragile commodities they are.

Who hurt Leroy’s shoulder? Why and what’s the reason for?
“Not me,” says the GM
“Sure our bullpen’s catch-as-catch-can
I just had cash for one big gun
the guy who gets the ninth inning done.”

General manager Ruben Amaro’s offseason bullpen strategy of spending big to sign closer Jonathan Papelbon and then hoping the rest of the bullpen sorts itself out was not entirely indefensible; as Ed Wade demonstrated, money spent on set-up men is often money flushed down the drain. But Manuel is not known for developing young relievers. And in providing a dearth of experienced bullpen arms to a manager who has demonstrated repeatedly that he’d rather overwork his starters than turn to his bullpen, Amaro has essentially enabled Manuel’s worst tendencies.

Who hurt Leroy’s shoulder? Why and what’s the reason for?
“Not us,” say the rabid fans
whose rally towels fill the stands.
“The complete game is the new home run
we pay to see him git ’er done”

Maybe, just maybe, the fans are complicit in all of this. Sure, ever-increasing ticket sales pay these guys’ salaries, so the fans have a right to high expectations. But the fetishization of the complete game (granted, a fetishization completely enabled by Halladay) is, perhaps, creating unrealistic expectations. Wouldn’t we all be perfectly happy if Halladay never threw another complete game if it meant, say, 25 games per season in which Halladay goes eight and Papelbon closes out the ninth?

Who hurt Leroy’s shoulder? Why and what’s the reason for?
“Not me,” says the man himself
“I didn’t put me on the shelf
I only trust myself to close
even if it’s caused my achy hose.”

Halladay’s throwback finish-what-I-start act is admirable, and despite his high innings-pitched totals, is incredibly efficient with his pitch counts. But like Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan before him, even freaks of nature begin to slow down. Halladay’s work ethic is legendary, but like teammate and notorious gym rat Chase Utley is learning, there comes a time when reps are your enemy, and rest is your friend.

Here’s hoping for good news from Dr. Ciccotti.