By Jon Weisman
Chad Billingsley first described himself as “flustered” by the turn of events that has brought him face-to-face with a second year of surgery in a row, this time to repair a torn flexor tendon, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports here.
Normally you’d might expect “frustrated,” a word Billingsley in fact later used with reporters here, but “flustered” adds a level of agitation that speaks to his eagerness to get back in the game.
Billingsley will miss the remainder of the 2014 season as he recovers from his latest operation. By the time the 2015 campaign begins, the right-hander, who turns 30 next month, will have pitched 12 Major League innings in more than 80 weeks.
“Bills is a good friend of mine, so I just feel bad for him,” said Clayton Kershaw, for six years a teammate of Billingsley. “I know how much he loves to complete and how much he wanted to pitch, and I can’t imagine going through that whole rehab process and finding out that news. You just try to put yourself in his shoes and be there for him the best you can, and realize it’s a pretty terrible situation.”
It’s not coincidental that Billingsley, according to Kershaw, would be the first guy to lend a hand to someone else in trouble.
“Bills is a really generous person,” Kershaw said. “I think that would be the best way to describe him. He goes out of his way for a lot of people, takes care of a lot of people.”
While never quite becoming the Drysdale to Kershaw’s Koufax, Billingsley has been an underrated contributor to the Dodgers since breaking in with them in 2006. In the 56 1/2 seasons the Dodgers have played since moving to Los Angeles, Billingsley is the 17th-best starting pitcher they have had in terms of adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com (minimum 600 innings), and 16th in WAR.
Since the Dodgers last won a World Series title, only two pitchers have thrown at least 1,000 innings with an adjusted ERA of at least 110 and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings: Kershaw and Billingsley.
Dating back to the October 10, 2008 National League Championship Series playoff game for which he was vilified, Billingsley developed a reputation as a pitcher that melts down. I studied the issue in May 2012 — three months before his injury troubles began in earnest — by looking at innings in which pitchers allow at least three runs, and found that “the difference between Billingsley and Kershaw in this category is approximately two bad innings out of every 100.”
In the 71 starts studied, Billingsley had a meltdown inning 5.4% of the time.
Far from someone to write off, this is no inconsequential pitcher the Dodgers have lost.
“Bills works as hard as anybody,” Kershaw added. “If it’s just a matter of putting in the work, I don’t have any doubts that he’ll be back.”