As Billingsley returns, do armchair therapists lurk?

Eleven men, brave and true, have pitched for the Dodgers in this young season. None, with the possible exception of Zack Greinke (who has publicly acknowledged social anxiety and depression issues), have had their performances psychoanalyzed in terms of mental toughness.

But back to the couch tonight, for the first time since his 2012 midseason injury, comes Chad Billingsley. It will be a test — not just for Billingsley, but for Dodger fans, who have habitually graded the righthander’s mental toughness ever since the 2008 playoffs.

Dodgers at Padres, 7:10 p.m.

Carl Crawford, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Andre Ethier, RF
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Justin Sellers, SS
Chad Billingsley, P

The practice went on hiatus during the six-game, 1.30 ERA hot streak that came right before Billingsley was sidelined. Will it return as soon as he has his first bad inning, or will there be the kind of grace period that other pitchers get when they are coming back from an injury? I have my suspicions, but it would be nice if Dodger fans could be as clear-headed as they expect their pitcher to be.

The thing to remember is, Billingsley was having an odd 2012 even before its supernova finish. From July 28:

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.

  • http://twitter.com/Javii86 Javier

    Here’s to a great year for Billingsley, hope he bounces back strong.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Would be nice for Billz to be a very good number 2 this year behind our 1A Clayton and 1B Zach

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely!

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    Heck, I just hope his arm holds up. Pitching well would be a bonus.

  • Anonymous

    The weird thing about psychoanalyzing Billingsley is that he doesn’t strike me as a guy who seems to look that he cares that much on the mound. That is, he doesn’t appear to be someone who looks particularly up or down. He just seems to go through with his job.

    Of course, people dislike him because he wouldn’t throw pitches at Shane Victorino’s head in 2008. Because he didn’t get angry.

    There basically is no way to win for him with some people. And i think he probably doesn’t care. He just needs to concentrate on pitching and the rest will sort itself out.

    • Anonymous

      Obviously, he’s a dour Midwesterner.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    CARL!!!!

  • Anonymous

    I’ll be in therapy re Billingsley, but not at the desk, rather, on the couch.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    well good start…let’s go billz…hold them

  • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

    This is probably of interest only to me, but I learned today that Prime Ticket has an alternate channel on my Oceanic Time Warner system, and it’s the one on which this game is being shown. I wonder what else is on the system that I’ve not learned about.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      I think this is for today and Friday’s game only as per TBLA

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT
      • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

        Thanks. I notice they said “local” listings, and sure enough Oceanic (Hawai’i Time Warner) is not on the list. However, now I know where Alternate Prime Ticket is in my cable lineup, so I’m prepared.

        • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

          Sorry got that list off MSTI…thought it was the same list: Here is the list from TBLA:

          http://tinyurl.com/btycjcr

        • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

          Here is the list from TBLA that lists Oceanic cable: http://tinyurl.com/btycjcr

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT
  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Luis with his 1st hit of the season…yes

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    AJ!!!

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    AJ!!!

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    hitting is contagious…Come on Carl keep it going

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    another good inning…shut them down Chadley

  • Anonymous

    I have come to praise Bills, not bury him.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      nice so far this game…good inning

  • Anonymous

    Nice Billz!

  • Anonymous

    I was always high on Stilts (as a fifth)

    • Anonymous

      everyone is high on stilts

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    Everybody getting hits… except Matt.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      He’s not right yet…you can see it in his timing

      • Anonymous

        His April/March splits are usually the best (OPS .994).

        • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

          yea I know…now he’s very indecisive at the plate

      • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

        Almost looks like he’s picking his head up early, a critique usually made more often of golf swings. I don’t what the problem is honestly.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of armchair therapists, my sense is that Kemp is hurting, but that he doesn’t want to acknowledge same and is choosing to try to play through his pain. The result, thus far, is what we are witnessing — plenty of strikeouts, not much solid contact. I expect at some point in the not-too-distant future, when it becomes clear he cannot do what he wants and what his fans expect him to do, he will acknowledge that he is not well and will go on the DL. We have seen other Dodgers, as well as other major leaguers, take this approach.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t notice anything physical, but you could be right.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      I think your right…his swing doesn’t look the same

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Come on Birthday boy

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    good hustle Dre!!

  • Anonymous

    Just tuned in, good start I see

    • Anonymous

      What time are operating from these days?

      • Anonymous

        It is 1.10pm here on Thursday. We have just finished our daylight saving time. I am using a brief 2 minute window during my lunch to ‘check in’. Hopefully I can rejoin you all later :)

  • Anonymous

    trouble brewing

  • Anonymous

    Just a little tired/rusty (hoping).

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Have I mentioned how much I like having a leadoff hitter

  • Anonymous

    Missed another one by inches!

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      very very close

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    good job Mark

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    Attaboy Matty!

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

    Carl Crawford is now hitting .481/.533/.741.

    • Anonymous

      I am liking him more and more

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

    From the Department of Strained Team Loyalties:

    John McGinley grew up in New Jersey as a sports fan who “bleeds Yankees blue” and rooted hard for the Giants, for whom his grandfather, Ed, played tackle in 1925.

    So when the actor heard about the upcoming Jackie Robinson movie, “42,” he campaigned for the role of Dodgers announcer Red Barber, seeking out writer/director Brian Helgeland, his neighbor in southern California.

    http://www.newsday.com/sports/media/john-mcginley-plays-red-barber-in-42-1.5044492

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

    An out at a time, Chad.

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

    That is the highest bouncer I have ever seen in a game not on artificial turf.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      The old Baltimore chop

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

    Whew!

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Nice play mark

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Luis is warming up

  • Anonymous

    Beardingsley. Nice outing.

    • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

      our number two guy

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

    Billingsley finishes off the sixth and, I’m guessing, his season debut. 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K, 94 pitches.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

      Those couple of walks after being ahead 0-2 weren’t great but an all around good start from Bills. Happy to see it.

  • Anonymous

    Kemp coming around!

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Come on AJ…ducks on the pond

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    Two innings in a row an Ellis left shaking his head at a third called strike to end the inning.

    • Anonymous

      I have no eyes on the game tonight. Were the Ellis called strikes strikes? He’s usually got a pretty good eye.

      • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

        AJ’s was a strike…I missed Mark’s

        • Anonymous

          Thanks.

          • Anonymous

            it was outside on Gameday

      • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

        They were both border line but AJ gracefully walked away while Mark had some strong words to say after his.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    I loved that shot of Greinke next to Honeycutt with the book out studying up for his start tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    Whoa. Bison being Bison!

    • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

      Are you just following on gameday? It was a decent catch but one that should be made by any center fielder. Not sure how gameday showed it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    Now Shumaker’s catch, that was something!

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Nice diving catch by Skippy

  • Anonymous

    I’m listening on the radio, so it “sounded” like a long run and close catch. I should have known better!

    • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

      Steiner’d again? Kidding. He took a nice route, it was a good catch.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    What is going on with the Pads defensive alignment? Alonso is moving all over Yonder…

  • Anonymous

    One down…

  • Anonymous

    Yikes.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    Ouch. Should be game over, now it’s a one run game.

  • Anonymous

    C’mon, get the K — again!

  • Anonymous

    Four out inning. Painful to listen to.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kmt59 KT

    Ball Game…That was close…Night All…Got to go my son is wiped out

  • http://www.twitter.com/ElJefedor Jeffrey Thomas III

    I just let out the biggest sigh of the 2013 season yet…

    • Anonymous

      Amen!

  • Anonymous

    Phew!!!

  • Anonymous

    PHEW!

  • Anonymous

    I was thinking of Mickey Owen, two outs, 9th inning, 4th game of the 1941 World Series. History didn’t repeat itself.

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

    NPUT