Believe It Or Not, Ted Lilly’s Problem Isn’t Homers

Warning: you may want to take small children and the elderly out of the room before viewing the logs of Ted Lilly‘s last three starts.

Date Opp Rslt IP H R BB SO HR GSc SB CS 2B
Jun 17 HOU L,3-7 5.1 8 6 2 4 0 32 2 0 3
Jun 22 DET L,5-7 4.2 6 6 1 8 3 35 0 0 1
Jun 28 MIN L,4-6 4.2 9 6 0 0 1 35 4 0 2

Wow, it’s almost like his completely unsustainable run after joining the Dodgers last year… was completely unsustainable. Here’s the thing, though; though I was against his three-year deal in the offseason and am even more so now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’s not soley to blame here. (Except for the stolen bases, that is, which are getting embarrassing.) Heading into tonight, his 1.5 HR/9 was exactly the same as it was last year, and is essentially the same as his career 1.4/9 mark. Though he didn’t record a walk or a whiff tonight, the first time in his career he’s gone at least four innings without doing either, his 3.78 K/BB entering the game was identical to 2010 (3.77) and a good deal better than his career average (2.57). His velocity (a tick under 87) is the same as last year, as is his percentage of fastballs thrown (56%).

So what’s going on? Well, it appears to be two issues. First, despite the fact that I mentioned his K/BB hasn’t changed, he’s definitely missing fewer bats. He’s striking out more than a man less per nine innings, and his swinging strike percentage has sunk from 9.5% in 2009 to 8.9% in 2010 to 7.5% this year – and that last number is sure to fall further when tonight’s game is factored in. He’s walking fewer than he ever has as well, so that’s how the K/BB stays lower.

If you’re striking out fewer, you’re relying more on your defense, and that’s where we run into our second problem. According to Baseball Prospectus‘ “Defensive Efficiency”, the Dodgers currently rank 28th in MLB as far as turning balls into outs. So you’re seeing exactly what you’d expect to see when you have a pitcher who isn’t striking people out, and isn’t getting support from his defense. The problem is that I’m not sure how we see either of those items changing any time soon, particularly since Lilly is still signed up for his age-36 and age-37 seasons the next two years.

Otherwise, the offense was generally quiet outside of a brief burst in the 5th inning. It probably didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but I have to question Don Mattingly’s pinch-hitting decisions in the final inning, with Aaron Miles (who had hit his first homer since 2008 earlier), A.J. Ellis, and Jamey Carroll coming up. Ellis had a hit and as we all know, has excellent on-base skills, but Mattingly sent up Trent Oeltjen in his place. Fine, I suppose; Oeltjen is a lefty with more power and had a great game yesterday. The Aussie drew a walk, and with one out Carroll stepped to the plate… except, not.

Instead of the guy with the .372 OBP who had already gotten on base twice tonight, the guy who just this afternoon GM Ned Colletti touted as a deserving All-Star, Mattingly chose to send up Dioner Navarro, presumably because there’s some sort of federal law that requires Navarro to bat in the 9th with the game on the line. (I’m joking, but only partially.) I get that Navarro could hit lefty against Matt Capps, but you’re not going to sell me on him as a power threat (three dingers over last two years) or any kind of offensive force (he is hitting .168, remember). Navarro, predictably, topped a ball that went all of about 50 feet and was thrown out. Carroll was skipped for that. Without Carroll, Tony Gwynn walked, but Casey Blake grounded out to end the game.

I’ve generally been a big fan of Don Mattingly, but I will never understand his fascination with Dioner Navarro.

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  1. [...] several bad starts. Despite the seemingly outrageous homer rate, when I looked at him in June, that wasn’t the largest concern: So what’s going on? Well, it appears to be two issues. First, despite the fact that I mentioned [...]