Yesterday Roy Halladay continued the excellent start to his 2011 season, striking out 14 batters — tied for a career best — and allowing a single run over 8.2 innings. Five starts into the season Halladay leads the league in WAR and is second in xFIP and FIP. Halladay, 33, is continuing a trend started in 2004 throwing more cutters and fewer two-seam fastballs. Early in the season he is throwing the most cutters (47%) and fewest two-seam fastballs (26%) of his career.
Halladay has always thrown his cutter more often to left-handed than right-handed batters, and it is no different this year as he has thrown it 58% of the time to left-handed batters. His command with the pitch has been other-worldly:
He has thrown 163 cutters, and nearly all of them in a rectangle about two feet high and three feet wide. That is just crazy. The tight vertical spread is particularly incredible.
So far in 2011 Halladay has struck out over a batter an inning, much higher than any full season of his career. A big part of that is surely small sample size fluctuations, but it could also be that he has traded traded two-seam fastballs (5% whiff rate for Halladay over his career) for cutters (10%). If he continues to throw so many cutters he could have a career high in strikeouts, though probably not a strikeout an inning. So far it hasn’t affected his ground-ball rate, but one would think it would go down, since his two-seamers have a ground-ball rate of 63% compared to just 46% for his cutters.
Halladay, even with years and years of dominance, continues to tweak his game. He added a cutter in 2004 and now throws it nearly every other pitch, and last year adjusted the grip on his changeup and has thrown it much more often in the past two years. These kind of adjustments keep the best pitcher of the past decade dominant into the beginning of this one.