Regal Blue

Billingsley available?

Posted in Sports by gklarsen on November 9, 2009

That’s what Baseball Prospectus is saying:

Starting pitching is always at a premium, and while Halladay will be hotly pursued again, a number of younger starters are also available, including the DodgersChad Billingsley….

Billingsley is the most intriguing of the group, as he is just 25 and pitched in the All-Star Game this season. However, he struggled so badly down the stretch that he was taken out of the rotation and left the Dodgers wondering if he might need a new start in another organization.

Granted, a young and cost controlled pitcher with a ton of upside would undoubtedly get a lot in return, but what could be better than…well…a young and cost controlled starter with a ton of upside?

Bills’ struggles down the stretch this year were certainly concerning.  Many a fine analysis was attempted in order to figure out just what he was doing wrong but to no genuine avail to fans or to the pitcher himself.  He wasn’t injured.  His velocity seemed fine.  Perhaps most frustrating of all, he would demonstrate five exquisite innings in a start only to get smoked in the sixth.  It felt like it happened every time!  Why can’t this kid get outta the sixth?

I took a look at his past year and there weren’t any dead giveaways as to why this happened.  A lot of his basic ratios remained similar, albeit a bit worse, than the year before.  K/BB sunk a little, k/9 sunk a little, BBs went up a little…you get the point.  FIP, however, was significantly higher and that’s obviously a concern.

Most interesting is his pitch selection.  During his first years in the bigs, Bills featured a lot of fastballs with a few curves and around 15% cutters with some changeups mixed in there.  This year, however, he has cut down significantly on his fastballs and went way up on the cutters while abandoning the change almost completely.  On the surface this was probably a wise decision.  His fastball doesn’t rate super high, but his cutter in ’08 was valued at 11.  Unfortunately that rate fell to mid four this year, while the rest of his pitch values remained largely consistent with the curve the only other positive value pitch.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of downward trends.  BABIP was lower than last year and essentially a non-factor at .294.  GBs declined just enough to be concerning, while LDs declined minimally, resulting in more fly balls which of course translate into more home runs.  Even a casual observer would recognize that there seem to be more balls leaving the park off Bills this year.

All said and done he was worth 3.1 wins this year.  For a guy that cost either league minimum or a few mil (I can’t recall if he was arb eligible this year), that ain’t bad.  Furthermore, even if he repeats his five innings and out performances next year, that’s still significantly more valuable than your typical mid rotation starter given that those five innings are usually very good.

Billingsley was highly touted coming in to the major leagues and for good reason.  He basically met expectations after his mid-season call up in 2006 and after a baffling assignment to the bullpen in the beginning of 2007, has been a rock up until July of this year.  He was projected to be a long term one or two starter and by all accounts was living up to it.

I can’t speak with any authority on what his trade value is now.  I suspect it’s still extremely high.  But it seems like an odd time to trade him considering we’ll lose Randy Wolf to free agency, didn’t pick up Garland’s option (as was the plan all along), and will probably lose Padilla as well.  Thus, our rotation currently sits at Kershaw, Kuroda, Billingsley and that’s really it.  I don’t imagine Charlie Haegar will be given the fourth spot or Elbert the fifth.  Furthermore, our farm pitching is still at least a year away.

The front office may simply consider a free agent starter to fill the gap if Bills is traded for prospects.  The free agency market for pitchers is notoriously risky and this year doesn’t exactly feature a whole lot of promise.  Lackey is the only marquee name and I want nothing to do with him, considering he’ll be wildly overvalued and require far more years than any team not named the Yankees should consider.

I myself hope that we give Billingsley a shot to start this season and shop him for a potential mid season trade.  His struggles last season weren’t the product of bad luck or ill fortune but I would be quite hesitant to let such a valuable commodity get away for uncertain prospects.  Naturally a package that included a solid catching prospect and infielder would be tempting but besides that I’m not sure what else would measure up.

More as this develops of course.

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