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A window inside Halladay's pitching mind

@ToddZolecki
May 18, 2020

In the new book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” MLB.com’s Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki details not only Halladay’s Hall of Fame baseball career with the Phillies and Blue Jays, but his hard-driven adolescence, his lifelong personal struggles and his motivation to pay forward the knowledge and philosophies that

In the new book “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” MLB.com’s Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki details not only Halladay’s Hall of Fame baseball career with the Phillies and Blue Jays, but his hard-driven adolescence, his lifelong personal struggles and his motivation to pay forward the knowledge and philosophies that helped him achieve greatness before he died in a plane crash in 2017. In this excerpt, Zolecki details Halladay’s legendary work ethic and routine between starts, recreating the fourth day of Halladay’s typical five-day routine and setting the scene for his historic perfect game against the Marlins in Miami on May 29, 2010.

This excerpt from "Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay" by Todd Zolecki is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/DocPhillies.

Day 4

Halladay played catch, sometimes with [Phillies strength and conditioning coordinator Dong] Lien.

“That day was lighter for most people,” Lien said, “but he didn’t want it to be. He just wanted to make sure that he was moving around. Nothing long duration, short duration. A last-minute check to see how his body is feeling that day. There’s a checklist. My legs are a bit tight, then I need to do more stretching. Making sure he’s hydrated for the next day’s start. He’s fueling with food, hydration. He taught me a lot. Things we may not have considered at the time, but just the importance of being mindful. A day before my start, just making sure that I’ve addressed nutrition needs, hydration needs, recovery needs, video preparation. It was strategic.”

Halladay spent time in his hyperbaric chamber, but he spent most of Day 4 in the video room. Many times it was just Halladay, Chase Utley, and [video coaching services manager Kevin] Camiscioli.

“What was funny was it became Doc and Utley kind of going head to head, staring at the monitors and looking for anything and everything mortals can’t see,” Camiscioli said. “They were two students of the game with a tremendous amount of respect for the game.”

Halladay and Utley typically worked in silence, which surprised nobody that knew them. But occasionally one of them asked a question about something they saw on their screen.

“Hey, Chase,” Halladay said.

“Yeah?”

“What do you think about this?”

Utley’s ability to uncover how pitchers tipped pitches was legendary. He could spend hours in the video room looking for a subtle movement that would give himself and his teammates an edge. When he found something, he froze the image on the screen, stood up and walked out of the room.

“We would talk about giving away pitches from a hitter’s standpoint, what a hitter could see on him,” Utley said. “So we talked about that a lot. He was always picking my brain on things he could do to essentially keep from tipping his pitches.”

Halladay had been throwing his changeup only a couple months, when he prepared for his start against the Marlins. Utley picked up something early.

“His split, he would tip,” Utley said. “His glove would change shape a bit early on, but he cleaned it up.”

“Those two guys, I mean, there will never be guys like that,” Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth said. “What I’ve seen -- and I’ve played with a lot of guys on a lot of teams -- preparation-wise, no one comes close to Roy Halladay and Chase Utley. They were the most prepared guys on the field every day. You try to have a conversation with those guys and forget it. But you put them in the video room and they can’t shut up.”

Halladay might spend 90 minutes to two hours in the video room. He took breaks to get lunch.

“Or who knows? Maybe run 10 miles or something,” Camiscioli said.

Day 4 was not Halladay’s only day to study -- he typically went through three hitters a day -- but this was his final opportunity to review. He kept notes in his notebooks on every hitter. He constantly rewrote them. Camiscioli eventually digitized them. If Chris Carpenter faced the same team recently, Halladay watched that video because they were so similar. Halladay watched other right-handers too, along with his most recent plate appearances against each hitter. Hitters change. If they adjusted, Halladay found out.

“For me, I wanted to see -- when in doubt -- where can I throw my fastball to this guy?” Halladay said. “It’s either usually in or away. If I have to throw a fastball in a 3-2 count, where can I throw it and not get killed? And then I wanted to know if he was better hitting a curveball or a changeup. It was very simple. I would do that, but I wouldn’t cheat myself. I made sure I got every guy on the roster.”

The notes were remarkably detailed. Here is what Halladay had for Braves slugger Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann before a game on July 8, 2011, at Citizens Bank Park. Freeman was a rookie then.

FREEMAN (L)
FB -- cutt deep up in quick down in on plate, sink in edge must be in for freeze. Sink away down and expand will chase off, he’s good sink away up on plate. Back door cutt edge ok.
CB -- cb very good early and often. Back door down middle down bounce and back foot big bounce.
CH -- CH very good work down all across will wrist flip up middle and away.

“He’s saying he can cut balls in and away, early-count curveballs away, changeups down and away,” Freeman said. “That’s spot on. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame. He did this. He could have easily said, ‘Oh, he’s a rookie. I’ll just go with what I want.’ He still took time to write down what he thought. That’s the thing. If I start doing something he can go in and change his notes.”

Freeman batted .500 (8 for 16) with three home runs, nine RBIs, three walks, and two strikeouts in his career against Halladay. He homered off Halladay in the first pitch he ever saw against him (a cutter) in a pinch-hit at-bat on September 21, 2010. It was the first homer of Freeman’s career.

“I got him in the Cy Young Award era for a couple years, but I wish I could have faced him all the way through his career,” Freeman said. “I think it would have been a great battle. Those were the games I was just trying to get a broken-bat hit. You’re really just grinding for a walk. What made him tough is that every pitch was competitive. When you throw 110 pitches, most of the guys now are throwers. You’re throwing 80 pitches that are competitive and the other 30 are balls right out of the hand. It’s nothing. It’s just like a pointless pitch. If he throws sinker in, it’s almost enough to make you swing at it. If it’s a changeup away, it’s on the right plane where you like, ‘Is that going to stay up?’ No, it’s gone. Now you’re 0-1 because you swung at it. Curveballs were always in the strike zone or below. Every pitch was competitive. That’s what separates guys from good to great.”

McCANN (L)
Timing hitter.
FB -- Quick belt in, cutt in above at hands or back foot get deep. sink away OK down, down is key will expand off. Back door cutt edge ok. Sink in edge only after cutt.
CB -- CB very good all along bottom big expand chases, CB early and often, OK on back door hangers work down.
CH -- CH down away must be to expand, very good FB counts.

“Bulldog,” McCann said. “He tried to get you out within the first couple pitches. He came right at you. He made you hit his pitch. When you’re that good you’ve got to pick a side of the plate. You can’t cover both sides with No. 1’s. Pick a side, wherever you think he’s going to go and try to guess along with him.”

Halladay studied on the plane too. The Phillies flew to Miami from New York on May 27. Most teammates watched movies, played cards, or slept. Halladay had two iPads and his notebooks spread across the tray tables in front of him. The iPad on the left had each hitter’s last 20 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. The iPad on the right had Halladay’s last 10 plate appearances against each hitter. The dueling screens allowed him to study how each hitter approached right-handers most recently and how he attacked them most recently. If a hitter moved closer to the plate since the last time he faced him, he knew it and he adjusted.

“He’s playing boureé, it just happens to be baseball and scouting,” Chad Durbin said.

Halladay and Durbin had similar arsenals, although Durbin did not have the same stuff. But because they shared something in common he often sat behind Halladay on the plane and peeked over his shoulder.

“I felt guilty,” Durbin said. “I’d be like, ‘These are the guys in the lineup that I’ll probably face.’ We had the same arsenal so we’d talk. I loved doing that. I’d pick his brain and stand next to him in the outfield. In those moments you just saw how he forgot where he was, what he was doing. He just wanted to talk baseball. So we’d talk about what shape we want that cutter to be to Daniel Murphy vs. someone who might drop down and get it. It was never just, ‘I think we need to throw a cutter.’ It was two balls above his belt, in the top of the zone, or miss off. Or, ‘I want my sinker to be flat against this guy, not depth.’ And he could make the ball do that stuff. He was just better at it than anyone. But knowing that stuff made all of us better. I’d watch him pitch from the bullpen and I’d know how to attack hitters and I’d have no questions about his convictions because I knew how hard he worked at it. I’d be like, ‘How do you get this guy out right now? I haven’t seen his last 10 at-bats.’ And he’d go, ‘I just looked at them.’ And he’s dead-on.”

Halladay spent the week preparing physically and mentally for the Marlins. He was ready.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .