Let’s pour one out for Chad Billingsley, who was effective, though hardly electric, in helping the Dodgers shut down the Giants in his return from the DL. With all the talk about Matt Kemp getting benched (he’ll be back tonight) and Joe Torre mishandling Jonathan Broxton, a loss last night, or even just a bad start by Billingsley, could have led to a full-fledged disaster.
But as little as I think of Torre and his bullpen management, there’s one unavoidable truth: some of the main cogs in the bullpen just aren’t as good as it was last year. I’ve already looked into Ramon Troncoso, but an even bigger culprit is George Sherrill. There’s no doubt that Sherrill’s 2010 has been a complete and total train wreck, to the point where Steve Dilbeck in the LA Times is openly campaigning for him to be sent to the minors. I won’t quite call this a Carlos Santana situation, since Josh Bell has just a .307 OBP for Baltimore’s AAA team, but Sherrill is just about a no-doubt non-tender situation this offseason.
How bad has Sherrill been? Part of me actually agrees with Steve Dilbeck.
Anyway, normally when we do these things I’ll give a bit of an intro about how good a player was, how far he’s fallen, and explain how I’m going to try to figure out what’s happened, including presenting the relevant stats.
But in looking at Sherrill’s game log, one thing jumped out at me so clearly that I can’t possibly bury it any further: George Sherrill hasn’t had a strikeout since May 17. That’s more than six weeks ago, ever since he struck out Houston’s Michael Bourn (who struck out 140 times last year) in the 8th inning of a 6-2 Dodger win in Los Angeles. By (a completely unfair) comparison, Clayton Kershaw has 56 strikeouts since Sherrill’s seen his last one. He’s clearly fooling no one. How can you succeed like that?
Well, you can’t – obviously. But before we discuss how bad he’s been in 2010, it’s important to remember that the fall isn’t as big as it seems, because his 2009 was a bit of a mirage. You’d know this already if you’d purchased the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual and read my capsule on him, but Sherrill’s sparkling 0.65 ERA as a Dodger obscured some pretty discouraging truths. For example, did you know that after Sherrill left the brutal AL East to join the Dodgers:
- His walk rate increased. He’d issued free passes to 2.83/9 in Baltimore, but that jumped to 3.58 as a Dodger.
- He got hit a little harder. In Baltimore, line drives were hit against him at a 15.4% clip. In LA, that increased to a career-high 22.7%.
Saved by a timely bit of luck (BABIP in LA dropped to .243) and the sudden and unsustainable ability to keep the ball in the yard (HR/9 rate half of his career average), it’s no surprise that his “real” ERA (by xFIP) as a Dodger last year was 3.98. That’s still far better than this year’s debacle, but it’s also not the startling Bob Gibson-to-Debbie Gibson transformation people think we’re seeing now, and that’s important.
There’s no such tomfoolery with the numbers this year, though. The fact that his ERA (6.75), FIP (6.19), and xFIP (6.55) align so closely show that his struggles this year have nothing to do with luck. Sherrill’s just been that bad.
It’s not that hard to see what’s causing this, either. He’s not throwing as hard (88.3 MPH average on his fastball, lowest of his career). He’s not getting anyone to chase junk out of the zone (swings on just 21.1% of his pitches outside the strike zone, tied for his lowest ever). He’s not avoiding bats on any pitches (85.1% of his pitches are met with contact, and he’s getting just 5.5% swinging strikes, each worst of his career).
So is he hurt? He claims no, despite missing time this season with a bad back. There’s been questions all year about his mechanics, theories that his offseason was too short, and stories about being “cured” by watching Billy Wagner on TV. Obviously, none of it has worked. Maybe it’s all of the above. Or none.
But here’s where I differ with Dilbeck, because I don’t think the minors are the right answer here. First of all, no pitcher has ever gone to Albuquerque to feel better about themselves, but also because his departure would leave the Dodgers with only one lefty in then pen, Hong-Chih Kuo, who can’t be used on consecutive nights. Now, I know you’re thinking that Sherrill is so bad that at this point it doesn’t matter if he throws lefty, righty, or with a cannon attached to his torso, but as long as he’s used in only certain situations, he can still be useful.
Sherrill has been unfathomably terrible against righties this year, allowing them to abuse him at a .405/.509/.714 clip. Despite the homer to Robinson Cano on Sunday – and let’s not forget, Cano’s probably the AL MVP at this point, so there’s not much shame in that – he’s held lefties to .206/.333/.353. I realize this is somewhat grasping at straws here, but unless you’re dying to see Juan Perez or Jack Taschner called up from ABQ, there’s not a lot of viable alternatives.
In the meantime, you pitch Sherrill only against lefties, preferably in low-pressure situations, and you pray. Because there’s not a whole lot else you can do right now.