Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/17/12

Given his excellence over the last decade, it’s become difficult to discuss Roy Halladay without merely descending into a list of superlative adjectives.

Indeed, Roy Halladay posted the league’s best WAR (8.2) among pitchers last season. By WAR, he’s been the best pitcher over the last two years, as well. And last three years. And four years. And five. And six. And seven. Really, to find a recent analog to Halladay’s achievement as a pitcher, you have to go back to 1998; over the final 12 years and ca. 2,400 innings of his career, Randy Johnson posted a 73.3 WAR. (Halladay debuted in 1998 himself, and has recorded 70.5 wins in 2554.0 innings since then.)

Given Halladay’s dominance, it’s unusual to find him in a jam of any sort while pitching; however, during last night’s contest against the Giants, something like a jam unfolded for the right-hander.

With Philadelphia leading San Francisco by a score of 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Halladay allowed consecutive hits to Brandon Belt (single) and Brandon Crawford (double) to start the inning (box). That situation (runners on second and third base with no outs) created a generic run expectancy of 1.79 for the Giants. That accounted not only for Halladay’s highest allowed run expectancy of the young season, but would have actually been his fifth-highest mark during all of 2011. Over the span of two batters, San Francisco’s win expectancy had risen from 8.4% (at the conclusion of Philly’s half of the fourth) to 20.5%. Even two outs, provided they were of the batted variety, could shrink Philly’s lead by two runs.

As expert baseball analyst Gary “Sarge” Matthews noted on the Philadelphia broadcast, the situation called for a strikeout — but with San Francisco’s Manny Burriss, owner of just an 11.7% strikeout rate in 674 career plate appearances, due up, that appeared unlikely.

It was here that Roy Halladay effectively (ahem) relieved himself — which is to say, he transformed briefly from Roy Halladay, Brutally Efficient Starter to Roy Halladay, High-Leverage Relief Pitcher.

Here’s the sequence. Note: “Vertical Location” is height from ground. The bottom of Burriss’s zone is 1.45 feet, according to PITCHf/x.

Pitch One: Curve, 75 mph
Vertical Location: 1.81 feet
Notes: Halladay’s first pitch is a curve with about 3.5 inches of drop (relative to a spinless ball) — this, relative to his average curve, which is generally closer to just 1.5 inches of drop. Other note: click on any GIF for Maximum Viewing Pleasure.

Pitch Two: Split-Change, 82 mph
Vertical Location: 1.73 feet
Notes: After the curve, Halladay goes a little bit lower with the splitter. He gets about 2.8 inches of drop on it — again, more than his usual one or so inches.

Pitch Three: Curve, 75 mph
Vertical Location: 0.38 feet
Notes: Halladay gets excellent break (four inches of drop) on this curve, which Burriss ends up just barely fouling off.

Pitch Four: Split-Change, 82 mph
Vertical Location: 0.70 feet
Notes: Halladay continues to work under the strike zone with his second 0-2 pitch. PITCHf/x suggests that this pitch features 9.5 inches of arm-side run (relative to Halladay’s normal six or seven). That doesn’t necessarily seem like the case, visually, although the offset camera angle makes it difficult to tell precisely. In any case, he gets a swinging strike on yet another low pitch.

All told, Halladay recorded three of his 13 swinging-strikes for the game during this four-pitch sequence — and he did so while avoiding the strike zone almost entirely, as this strikezone plot indicates.

Halladay immediately went to swing-and-miss mode in this high-leverage encounter with Burriss. Between here and the end of the inning, Halladay recorded a 9.6% WPA — essentially earning a shutdown in the middle of his own start. At no point during the rest of his appearance did the Giants’ win expectancy get any higher than 12.9%. Accordingly, Halladay returned to his efficient self, throwing only 44 pitches over the next four innings, 31 of those for strikes (70.5%). However, in the meantime, Halladay revealed his ability to adjust to the situation and get swinging strikes when called upon to do.

Very helpful pitch-by-pitch data from Brooks Baseball.

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