I’m not going to go through the motions of defending Chad Billingsley‘s performance tonight, because how can you? Staked to a 5-0 lead by an offense which finally showed some life, it took Billingsley just three innings to give it all back and then some. I could say that the Angels are one of the hottest teams in baseball, or that he entered tonight with a FIP that was better than that of Yu Darvish, Dan Haren, Jordan Zimmermann, Chris Capuano, & Matt Garza, but it’s not even worth it. He never once retired the Angels in order tonight, he allowed four extra-base hits among the ten Anaheim collected off him, and he basically fell apart at the worst possible time, considering how difficult it’s been for this club to score lately. He was awful.
So yes, Billingsley was very poor tonight, his second consecutive bad start after two very good ones, and you’ll get not a word of disagreement on that from me. It’s unbelievably frustrating to watch him go through these periods, because you have no idea what you’ll get out of him on any given night, and I have absolutely no idea how to fix that; there’s a not-at-all-small part of me which wonders if he’ll ever change. In fact, tonight’s game was so bad, what with Jamey Wright pouring gasoline on the fire and the offense completely disappearing after the second inning, that I don’t even want to talk about it anymore or think about it ever again.
Instead, a thought question. Heading into tonight’s game, these two Dodger starters each had 14 starts this season. Their primary pitching stats could not have been more similar:
A) 81.2 IP 3.74 FIP 3.95 xFIP 8.27 K/9 3.31 BB/9 1.1 fWAR
B) 86.1 IP 3.82 FIP 3.91 xFIP 8.34 K/9 3.23 BB/9 1.1 fWAR
That’s Billingsley in line “A”, and Capuano in line “B”, and I don’t show these stats to try to defend Billingsley’s performance tonight. (Obviously, these numbers are not going to look so similar when tonight’s mess is included.) I point them out because I find the perception gap between these two pitchers fascinating. If you were to ask a random sampling of Dodger fans how they feel about the two, I’m guessing their reactions would be phenomenally different. Regarding Capuano, you’d probably hear terms like “All-Star selection” and “best signing of the winter”; for Billingsley, of the few replies which would even be printable, you’d almost certainly hear responses like “get rid of the loser” and that “he doesn’t have any heart”.
I suppose I’m not entirely sure why that is, though Capuano does have the built-in advantage of being the newcomer off to a nice start while Billingsley has been his usual frustrating self. (We’ve talked about the incredibly misleading effect a hot debut can have dozens of times around here, in regards mainly to Juan Rivera, Orlando Hudson, & Rod Barajas; at this point, Elian Herrera could probably go hitless for the rest of the season and people would still love him – and it works the other way, too, because people still hate Todd Coffey.) I’m sure that’s part of it, but I’m also really, really hoping that the simplest answer isn’t the correct one, just because we’ve all worked so, so hard to move past wins and ERA by now. Capuano’s at 8-2 and 2.71 while Billingsley was at 4-5, 3.75 before tonight’s game, with the ERA gap being largely due to a BABIP from Capuano which is greatly out of line with his career numbers.
That’s probably part of it too, but maybe it’s also that they’ve arrived at those similar numbers in very different ways. Capuano has been more consistent, providing fewer moments of heartburn or opportunities for criticism. Billingsley, obviously, has had several terrible outings which opens him up hugely to critics, but his masterpiece in San Diego to start the season provided him with a Game Score that is unmatched by any Dodger by a wide margin this season. (And as Jon Weisman showed recently, his reputation for “meltdown innings” isn’t really deserved.)
When you include tonight’s game, the numbers will be clearly favoring Capuano, and that’s fine; I like, everyone else, would absolutely pick Capuano over Billingsley if I had to win one game right now. Still, for two guys who hadn’t really performed all that differently before tonight, it’s interesting to see the kind of massive perception gap that’s arisen between them. I think people have just made up their minds about Billingsley at this point, accurate or not, because he’s not the Kershaw-level ace his draft position and early performance indicated that he could be. It’s unfortunate that this is going to start up the “DFA Billingsley!” nonsense again – and yes, fans will be saying that; they’ll be hilariously wrong, of course, but expect it – yet after tonight’s disappointment, it’s best to just sadly nod your head and move on.
For tonight, at least, there’s no argument to be had.