Spring Training: Halladay's back?

Thursday, March 31 2005 @ 08:00 AM EST

Contributed by: Joe

One year ago, Blue Jays fans were coming off a season filled with highs, looking forward to the imminent return of the 2003 Cy Young award winner and the 2003 MVP runner-up at first base.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

The question for this year is—can last year possibly be repeated? Can the 2003 level of play even be approached? Of course anything can happen. Youneverknow. But what's likely?

Well, I frankly haven't a clue. I have a feeling that the Jays are going to surprise a lot of people who were blinded by the incredible, unbelievably bad things that happened last season. Will they contend? Almost certainly not. But the Jays aren't the 27th worst team in the league.

Their imminent success rests on the shoulders of one man - Roy Halladay. His right shoulder, mostly; in particular, whether it'll be the shoulder that pitched 266 innings in 2003, or the shoulder that limped (if you'll pardon the metaphor) through 133 innings last year.

The truth, as in many things, lies somewhere in-between. Halladay says he's ready, but nobody—including Doc himself—really knows until he gets up there on the mound. If he's worried about a twinge in his shoulder—or worried about worrying about one (and on and on)—he won't be the right Doc. I have a feeling it's going to take him a few outings, if he's fully healthy, to really become the pitcher we, as fans, have relied on in the past; it'll take a little bit of time before he knows whether his shoulder really is game-ready.

Which, appropriately enough, brings us to the events of yesterday's game against the Phillies. Halladay pitched 6 innings, striking out 7 (but walking 3, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of Roy). He also gave up a home run, his third of the spring; in recent years, Doc has given up about one homer per 10 IP, so that's about par for the course, especially in spring training.

In short, Halladay looks ready, but I don't think I'll be able to shake that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach until I see him in action.

Jays: A small crowd team?

Batter's Box readers often criticize the Blue Jays for performing poorly in front of large home crowds. As their theory goes, if you really get shellacked in front of a big crowd, you're going to turn a bunch of potential repeat customers off of the product all at once.

Well, I have a very basic training in statistics—being a math student, after all—and the biggest lesson I took from those courses is that I should never, ever trust anybody's observations. When it comes to personal observation, everybody is wrong sometimes, and most people are wrong most of the time. We tend to remember more exciting things most vividly, and then report those vivid memories as facts.

Even though the numbers are small, I think we can draw some conclusions about them. (Note: I'm only concerned with home games here.)

	N	Wins	Losses	Win%	RS	RA	Pyth Win%
All	81	40	41	0.494	392	430	0.458
>30000	19	10	9	0.526	95	92	0.514
>35000	10	4	6	0.400	43	55	0.389
>40000	6	3	3	0.500	25	34	0.363
At first blush, it looks as though there's not much to the claims that the Jays are a small-crowd team. After all, they performed at around the same level regardless of how many fans were at a game. But, glance at the Pythagorean win percentage, and you'll find that it seems as though the Jays scored fewer and fewer runs (relative to the opposition) as the crowds got larger and larger. Again, we can't infer causation or even correlation here, because the numbers are so ridiculously tiny. But what we can do is say "Hm, last season the Jays didn't score as much as their opponents in home games when the crowd was large." Fluke? Maybe. (Like I said, basic statistical training.)

Returning, though, to the stat that matters most to this study, the wins and losses—well, they speak for themselves. The Jays did not lose more often in home games with large crowds, period.