Roy Halladay, for all of his talent had never beaten the Giants. While he had not seen them often, the team tended to hit him hard, and going into Game Five of the NLCS, had never allowed less than four runs in any start against them. In two games this year, his line was as follows:
14 IP 18 H 9 R 9 ER 0 BB 12 K 3 HR
In the first inning of Game 6, Halladay looked to be in for more of the same. Halladay had allowed a walk and a single, along with an RBI ground out. His pitching was so off that there was a first inning coaching visit to the mound. Over the course of the game, though, the Giants were not able to hit him hard. No home runs were scored that night, with the hardest hit balls being a pair of back to back doubles in the fourth. Watching from home, Halladay did not look like his usual crisp self, and it later came out that he had pulled his groin in the second inning of the game (ironically trying to strike out Cody Ross). Unable to launch off of his plant foot as he normally would, his pitch selection was forced to change. Gone was his sinking fastball, as Halladay was forced to stick to breaking pitches- beating the Giants with a combination of curve balls, cutters, and change ups. He gutted it out through six clearly labored innings before being lifted, giving up only one more run, and getting the Phillies what they needed- a Game Five win. The natural thinking is to believe that this injury was a hinderance, and to wonder what type of game he would have put together had he not been hurt. But could this actually go the other way? Could pitching without a fastball actually have given him an advantage?
The Regular Season Meeting
The first time Halladay faced the Giants, thirty-eight percent (40 of 105) of his pitches were fastballs, either four (24) or two seam (16). The remaining pitches were 22 change ups, 18 curveballs, and 19 cutters. These pitches pounded the strike zone, as shown here:
More important than just the mix of pitches, however, was how those pitches were handled by the Giants batters. Of the pitches that Giants batters hit, 60% were off of fast balls. These hits included one homerun, two doubles and two singles. The remaining hits came off of cutters (two singles and a double) and one single off of a curveball.
NLCS Game One
This trend continued itself in Game One of the NLCS. Halladay threw fastballs thirty-six percent of the time (38 fastballs- 14 four seam and 24 two seam), along with nine change ups, nineteen curveballs, and thirty-nine cutters. While he favored the cutter over other breaking pitches, the Giants saw about the same percentage of fastballs. These pitches again pounded the strike zone, as shown here:
The hits showed a striking trend, though- all came off of fastballs or cutters, with all of the power hitting (two home runs and two doubles) coming off of the fastball.
NLCS Game Five:
The pitch choices and locations changed significantly in Game 5 of the NLCS, Of 108 pitches thrown that night, only 17% (18 pitches- 6 four seam and 12 2 seam) were fastballs. In lieu of fastballs, Halladay threw 49 cutters, 22 change ups, and 22 curveballs. Further complicating things, only half of his fastballs landed in for strikes. His strike zone plot for the evening was more spread out, and he walked the lead off batter twice, a very unfamiliar occurrence for him.
However, the proportionality of the pitches is important here. Six of Halladay's fastballs came in the first inning, with four of them being called balls. The first inning hit, a single, came on a cutter, with the RBI fielder's choice coming on a fastball. In the second inning, where the injury occurred, Halladay threw only one fastball, which was fouled off by Pablo Sandoval. Fastballs were almost his undoing in the fourth, when he pitched three of them to Pat Burrell and Cody Ross, leading to a pair of doubles, scoring one run. The remaining hits, all singles and mostly on the ground came on cutters, changeups, and curves.
This leads to an interesting potential conclusion- against this team, he may have fared better because he could not throw his fastball consistently for strikes. Without the fastball, and with more pitches falling outside of the zone, the Giants made far weaker contact, and mostly on the ground, reducing both the total number and strength of the hits. Thus, while an injury is the last thing you ever want to see happen, it may have actually been an asset here- forcing different pitches to be chosen and preventing Halladay from pounding the strike zone in the way that he usually does, allowing him to win in a new and unexpected way.