The counterintuitive Chad Billingsley shuts down Giants

Dodgers 10, Giants 0
In a glorious day for the Dodgers, Matt Kemp came a base short of the cycle, doubling in his final at-bat after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning off Barry Zito, singling in the sixth and doubling in the seventh. He scored three times and drove home four.

A.J. Ellis, who also homered, joined Mark Ellis, Hanley Ramirez (three RBI), Jerry Hairston Jr. and Luis Cruz in reaching base twice for Los Angeles, which put the game away with a three-run seventh inning for a 7-0 lead. Each of the above players except for Mark Elllis doubled.

Javy Guerra got Ryan Theriot to ground out with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning and pitched a perfect ninth to preserve the shutout.

The oddity of Chad Billinglsey’s 2012 season, prior to going on the disabled list in early July, was that the best K/9 rate of his career – 2.9 strikeouts for every walk – had not translated into any improvement in his overall performance. His 2012 ERA, standard as well as adjusted for park effects, was almost identical to his 2011 mark.

Billingsley was throwing more strikes and throwing fewer balls, but it wasn’t making any difference. Just to take a quick and dirty stat such as quality starts: In 2011, Billingsley had quality starts in 15 of 32 outings (47 percent), while in 2012, before the DL trip, it was eight out of 18 (44 percent).

Since coming off the disabled list, Billingsley has made two starts, pitching a combined 13 1/3 innings and allowing only one run on 12 baserunners. In the process, he has struck out only six batters, including two today while pitching 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing four hits and walking none in the Dodgers’ rousing 10-0 victory over San Francisco.

At one point today, I heard Dodger radio commentator Rick Monday – the toughest broadcast critic of Billingsley that I know of – praise the righthander, noting that he finally might be showing the consistency the Dodgers have been waiting for him to do. But there’s nothing new about Billingsley stringing together two quality starts in a row. In 2012 alone, this is the fifth time that he has done so.  And he completed the feat today while matching his lowest strikeout total for the season.

I know a lot of people don’t like it when luck is discussed in relation to a pitcher’s performance, and I don’t want to suggest that a pitcher has no effect on what happens when a ball is put in play. But I just don’t know how you can escape the notion that circumstance plays a role in what happens with a pitcher.

There’s just something counterintuitive to me about Billingsley missing fewer bats but getting better results. Yes, the efficiency is rewarding – Billingsley didn’t cross the 100-pitch mark until he gave up two hits in the eighth inning and took his leave from the game – but it wouldn’t have seemed so efficient if more of those 12 groundouts had eyes. And no, I don’t think Billingsley, Stephen Fife or even Greg Maddux has the ultimate power to decide where a grounder goes – much less to decide when Andre Ethier is going to make a leaping, ankle-testing catch at the right-field wall, as he did today.

We’d all like to see a 27-pitch complete game, but baseball doesn’t work that way – not even for the best.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that Billingsley can only benefit from attacking the plate. In an interesting post today at True Blue L.A., Eric Stephen noted that National League hitters have an OPS with a three-ball count of .973, and against Billingsley this year, they’re OPSing 1.116.

But attacking the plate does not guarantee positive results. Just to repeat – Billingsley has never had better control in his career than he has had in 2012. He has also never had a higher batting average against him on balls in play (.344 going into today). When you put those two factors together, I think it explains a lot about Billingsley’s 2012 season.

The temptation for many will be to hope that Billingsley has turned a corner. But it’s much more likely that nothing’s really changed. He’s been throwing strikes for some time now, and if you’re going to argue that the quality of strikes was better today, than why weren’t the Giants swinging and missing? I’m not quite believing that Billingsley has mastered the art of fooling batters just enough but not too much.

Billingsley makes mistakes. Maybe he makes more than he should, or maybe he just makes them at just the wrong times. And that’s something that he might have some control over, some ability to improve. But I remain convinced that Billingsley, who lowered his ERA to 3.89 today while winning only his sixth decision in 20 starts, has shown more improvement in 2012 than people – or the baseball gods – have realized. At the same time, today’s game, by itself, doesn’t prove anything.

  • Anonymous

    Great summary, Jon

  • KT

    Here’s to the sweep tomorrow..Come on Claw

  • KT

    Jon I was wondering if Ethier did something to himself on the catch
     
    The only reason I think something happened is because they replaced him with Tony the next inning and it wasn’t a double switch

    Could be they only want to give him some rest

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       I’m wondering the same.

  • Anonymous

    The last time the Dodgers beat the Giants by a 10-0 score at the Giants home park, Clem Labine was the pitcher.
    It was Game 155 for the Dodgers.

    Don Newcombe started the next day against Sal Maglie. Neither pitcher finished that game.

    • Anonymous

      But there was also that 11-0 game that the broadcasters were talking about, since then.

      • Anonymous

        The Dodgers beat the Giants by 11-0 scores TWICE in 1997. I was specifically checking for a 10-0 score.

  • Anonymous

    >> today’s game, by itself, doesn’t prove anything.

    True.  But a win, any day, by any score, under any circumstances, is better than a loss.

  • Anonymous

    YES!!!!! Rubby is starting his rehab assignments tomorrow with Lilly too!!!

    • Anonymous

      We have six major-league starters signed for next season (Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, Capuano, Harang, Rubby), plus more on the way from the farm system.  That’s why the whole trading for a starter thing, even just a rental for the rest of 2012, doesn’t appeal to me.

      • Anonymous

        I sort of agree, but I think we may need a backup starter for the playoffs (and possibly one more bat)

      • Anonymous

        We can always trade ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    Great post Jon if it were for Bills next start or to support trading Bills but geeze, what does it take to get a thank you, good game Bills.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

       I would think spending an hour writing about how his entire season has been underrated would count as much as “good game, Bills.”

      • Anonymous

        I thought you used that hour to produce an outstanding post that was informative and thought provoking.  If the purpose of the post was to say Bills entire season has been underrated I missed it.  It seemed to me you were saying to not get our hopes up.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, good game Bills!

  • Anonymous

    very fine post with no further comment needed.

    Mattingly on today’s line-up: ”I felt Mark fits more at leadoff today and Dre has had trouble with Zito [5-for-36],” said Mattingly. “I put him in front of Matt to get some strikes. Then Hanley and Matt, with Jerry [Hairston] fifth because he’s hit Zito good [9-for-25]. That’s the thinking.”

  • Anonymous

    Billingsley didn’t nibble today, just as he didn’t nibble during his last start in St Lou – he’s got to just keep pounding the strike zone and pitching to contact like he has in his last two starts and he’ll be fine. Everyone who has followed Billz career knows he can be a damned good pitcher. Of course, everyone also knows he can be a very frustrating pitcher when his command deserts him (or is he just nibbling?). He’s seen his recipe for success these last two games – he won’t have this same success every time out but then no pitcher does – Kershaw anyone? – I choose to take the good with the bad and throw my support 100% behind Billz – We all know he has it in him. Great game Billz- keep it up.
    Here’s hoping he keeps the Billingsley Bashers at bay the rest of the season.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      I assume you read my post, but it’s hard to after writing what I did to see a comment that basically suggests he only hasn’t been nibbling in his past two starts.

      • Anonymous

        ? Not sure I understand the question Jon – I’m simply saying that Billingsley has been much more pitch-efficient his last two starts (by pounding the strike zone and not nibbling, consequently not falling behind in the count, and having to serve up something too close to the middle of the plate, and seeing said pitch get hammered) – I was not being critical of your post if that is how you took it.

        • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

          I didn’t say you were being critical. But you seem to have missed the whole point of the post, which is that pounding the strike zone has been a season-long endeavor for Chad. The only reason he has been more pitch efficient in the last two starts is that he’s been getting fewer strikeouts.

          Not only is his K/BB ratio the best he’s ever had, but the percentage of strikes he’s thrown in 2012 is the highest of his career – that was before today.

          • Anonymous

            OK – I admit I scanned through the post pretty quick – I just re-read it – point taken – I see I’ll have to pay more attention in the future to avoid the ruler to the knuckles.

          • Anonymous

            Nuns used to smacks us on the palm of the open hand.  You deserve no less!

          • KT

            if you were real bad they would use the metal edge

          • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

             I didn’t mean for you to take it that way …

          • Anonymous

            Must admit that I haven’t seen Bills pitch very much this year.  I find the post to be illuminating in terms of what may be a different approach by him this year.  In recent years he hasn’t seem to have had the command to be a very good nibbler and no one would fish on his pitcher’s counts.  From what you say, he may have decided to pound the zone and let them fall where they may.  So he has turned a corner, but not the big one.

          • Anonymous

            Actually, Bills used to get more out of the zone swings and whiffs before the recent decline.

  • Anonymous

    From Ken Gurnick @ mlb.com :
    The hardest-hit ball off Billingsley was Melky Cabrera’s drive that sent right fielder Andre Ethier into the right-field fence. Ethier tumbled to the warning track and turned his left ankle or knee, which he flexed several times but stayed in the game before being replaced in the next inning by Tony Gwynn.

    • Anonymous

      Gurnick should have written “… and appeared to turn his left ankle or knee….” 
      While Gurnick works for mlb.com the link mlb.com leads to the mlb home page; dodgers.com leads to the Dodger home page where a link to the Gurnick game story can be found; but ASW has given all the story says about Ethier possibly being hurt.

  • Anonymous

    From earlier in this thread: “The last time the Dodgers beat the Giants by a 10-0 score at the Giants home park, Clem Labine was the pitcher.
    It was Game 155 for the Dodgers.”
    Actually, at first glance you might think it was game 156 so I’m guessing the 155 was a typo; but, in May of that year the Dodgers and Braves played a 12 inning 5-5 tie so the Dodgers beating the Giants 10-0 was game 157.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know how John in Aus does it.  Just got up myself here in Indonesia and missed the whole glorious thing.

    • Anonymous

      Have missed your wonderful sense of humor until recently. what are you doing in Indonesia if you don’t mind me asking?

      • Anonymous

        Hey Mike, I work in the field of development finance, which takes me around the world for varying periods.  Still, when I mention anyplace I might have been, it seems that KT already lived there himself for a couple of years.  Haven’t lived in Southern California for nigh on 40 years, when I cut my teeth on the 1960s Dodgers.  DT is a wonderful site that keeps me in the loop and able to interact with fellows like you who love the Blue, though I did catch a glimpse of a guy on a motorbike the other day wearing a Dodger blue warmup jacket.  Made my day!

        • Anonymous

           So you live in DC. World Bank or IMF?

          • Anonymous

            Back in DC after 15 years abroad.  Have worked for all of them. Most recently the Bank.  Down your way, worked in irrigation in Chile, lived for a while in BA and worked as well in Uruguay and Paraguay.

          • Anonymous

             Presumably in the north in Chile. Where precisely?

          • KT

            Never been to SA or Antartica…all the other contenents yes

          • Anonymous

            WBB, probably a little further south than one might imagine, around Temuco, but mostly Maule, Talca, Santiago, and of course in the northern valleys of La Serna and Copiapo.

          • Anonymous

            I’m a little surprised to see Temuco in that list, but Talca and Maule have obviously benefited from more economical use of water – drip in the vineyards, for instance. The Maule backcountry is extraordinary beautiful and, if it were in California, it would be overrun with hikers.

        • KT

          I’ve only been in 47 countries…I can’t help it if I was there 1st or that you are following me around ^_^

          • Anonymous

            Does the ‘K’ stand for ‘Kilroy’?

          • KT

            No but we traveled alot of the same ground…though he was there 1st…He’s a lot older than me ^_^

    • Anonymous

      It was only 7am when I woke up, even thought it is Sunday, I’m used to getting up at 6ish for work. Kids and wife slept in

      • Anonymous

        Would have been 3am, I guess, for me.

  • Anonymous

    U-less went 5.1 with 1 ER, on 5 H, 5K and 2 BB in his start today for the Fish against the Padres.

    • Anonymous

      and got the win

  • Anonymous

    I see that Guerrier is also due for rehab.   Before Choate’s arrival, his salary was more than the rest of the pen’s combined, including Coffey.

    • Anonymous

       It’s not as if anybody’s noticed Guerrier’s absence.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I wonder where he fits in now.

        • Anonymous

          A healthy Guerrier may be better than a healthy Guerra right now. But I’m starting to forget if Guerrier was actually good. It seems like a long time ago.

          • Anonymous

            If we had a Paix or a Paz in the system, we could give peace a chance.

          • Anonymous

             Or a Frieden.

  • Anonymous

    Ike Davis has three HRs for the Mets tonight, and will get at least one more AB in Phoenix. Unfortunately, he has scored all the Mets’ runs v. the Snakes.

  • Anonymous

    billz problem this year is mattingly/honeycutt has gotten into his head…his pitches are getting too much of the plate, thus hitters are making better contact.  you can’t really attribute bad luck in babip if they’re putting good wood to it.  would love to see where his pitches fall within the strike zone and his line drive rate this year to see if my theory is right.

    • Anonymous

      So what you are saying is you formed your theory (Bills is throwing in the middle of the plate because Mattingly/Honeycutt told him to) on literally nothing? Or, since you obviously have no idea whether his pitches are actually getting more of the plate than before, do you have any other bits of information that would lead to the formation of your theory?

      • Anonymous

        just watching his pitches game to game?  from b-r.com everything is fairly normal from year to year except the babip (upward trend last 4 years) and the high slugging coming from his xbh%, causing a jump to his OPS even tho his OBP is lower from his lack of walking batters.  fangraph gives a more positive outlook on his year, his line drive rate is only slightly up.  his stats have been pretty consistent throughout his career (kinda ironic talking about billz).  he’s throwing more fastballs this year and has mixed in an occasional slider in sacrifice of the cutter (way lower than previous).  both his cutter and curveball have negative value this year where early in his career those 2 were his bread and butter.  so there’s been a pitching shift there.  don’t have a subscription so that’s all i can see or recognize.

        • Anonymous

          Bills is having one of the best years in his career, barring that one outlier when his HR% was half his typical rate.

          • Anonymous

            i wouldn’t go that far, even on the heel of his 2 nice starts.

  • Anonymous

    Meanwhile, back on the farm…

    The ‘topes won a laugher today, 13-3.  And it was at Nashville, not in the thin air of Isotopes Park.  Ely allowed the three runs (2 ER) in 6 IP, with his usual total of walks (zero), with three one-inning scoreless frames by three relievers.  Castellanos, playing third base, went 3 for 5 with two taters, while Jer-ry Sands was 4 for 6 with a solo shot.

    The Lookouts also won a slugfest, 11-7, with Ethan Martin taking the win despite a line of 5 IP 5 R 4 ER 5 H 4 BB.  No dingers, but J. T. Wise led the offense going 3 for 4 with two doubles.  One oddity was the line score – 11 runs on 7 hits for Chattanooga, 7 runs on 11 hits for Birmingham, but it makes a little more sense when you realize that the Barons walked 11 Lookouts, vs 6 Barons walked by the Lookouts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1172439252 Michael Green

    I hope for his sake and ours that Bills has indeed gotten himself straightened out.  But I do not think I am violating any of the magic rules when I say that when I read the words “quality start,” I could hear Don Drysdale snorting at you about that phrase and the statistics behind it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713935344 Jason Ungar

     What a great game to come home to and watch. Hanley makes a huge difference. Billz looked great. Thank god Karros isn’t someone I have to listen to everyday. I don’t think i’d be able to handle that. I still hope we can get one more bat.

  • Anonymous

    Got tickets to the game tomorrow.  And my 22 jersey laid out.  Could be a great day in the city by the bay..

  • Anonymous

    Any chance Kershaw is fighting an injury? That might explain the club’s hunt for another starter….

    Statistically, is a pitcher more likely to have an arm operation than pitch a no-hitter? Interesting thought.

    Castellanos is tearing up AAA and now playing third base. Nice if Ramirez moves back to short. More likely they’ll tell Castellanos to learn to play first now. Isn’t it nice having options?

    • Anonymous

      Not so nice if you think the move means they’ve given up on trying to teach him to field 2B.

      • Anonymous

        we may need a LF next season.

  • http://veryolddodgerfan.blogspot.com/ veryolddodgerfan

    Jon I’m not sure what you’re saying about the “luck” stats in relation to pitcher and/or maybe C Bills pitching? 

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    New post up top.