2012 in brief: Made only eight starts before spending months trying unsuccessfully to return from shoulder woes which eventually required surgery.
2013 status: Signed for $13.5m in final year of 3/$33m contract and will need to prove his health in camp to hang on to rotation spot, if he’s not traded first.
I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.
And so far… yep. The funny thing is, Lilly actually found very good results over his first seven starts despite lousy peripherals, and as you’d expect that led to a lot of unhappy “buzzkill” replies headed my way when I argued in May that the combination of career-low strikeout rates & BABIP plus a higher-than-usual BB/9 rate could only spell disaster:
Capuano, fully healthy for probably the first time in six years, has been very effective at the back of the rotation along with Harang, and despite Chad Billingsley‘s struggles, the only one I’m really worried about at the moment is Ted Lilly. Sure, 5-0 and 2.11 looks swell, but a decreased strikeout rate (5.17, which would be by far the lowest of his career), an increased walk rate (3.29, highest since 2006), and an absolutely unsustainable BABIP (.196) does concern me about what’s to come.
So what happened in Lilly’s very next start?
Well, we didn’t call it the “house money” lineup without a good reason. Actually, this one was less on the Albuquerque-fueled lineup failing to do much against Joe Saunders – other than Elian Herrera, that is – than it was about the regression I feared was coming for Ted Lilly rearing its ugly head. The eight earned runs Lilly allowed in just 3.1 innings were the second most of his career, behind only a nine-spot he allowed in one of his final starts as a Cub before being traded in 2010.
Now, it turned out that this was slightly unfair, given that this is when Lilly hurt himself and was never seen again, so it’s not hard to think he was operating at something less than full strength in Arizona that night. Still, things started to get weird, because we at first believed that the problem was far from serious, yet as the Dodgers began sniffing around John Lannan & Roy Oswalt, we began to wonder just what was really going on:
We’d all sort of assumed that this may have been related to the neck injury that sidelined Lilly at the start of the season, but the fact that we’re even hearing the word “surgery” in relation to an arm injury is alarming, especially considering that Lilly had been effective so far this season. (Though not quite as effective as you might think; his 3.14 ERA is not quite supported by a 3.81 FIP and a 4.60 xFIP, each either worst or second-worst among the five Dodger starters.) You can see over at FanGraphs that his velocity was noticeably down even from its usual low level last week against Arizona, when he was shelled, and it’s not hard to think that he was already feeling some ill effects from whatever this injury turns out to be. We’ll still need to wait to hear just how severe this could be, although anyone who is truly surprised by a 36-year-old pitcher with roughly 2600 professional innings under his belt & four previous DL trips for shoulder woes coming down with a shoulder injury should probably reset their expectations. Even though it’s not quite official yet, I’ve updated the Depth Chart to make him approximately the 128th Dodger to hit the disabled list this year.
Lilly tried all season to return, making four starts for Rancho Cucamonga over a few different rehab stints, and even said he’d pitch out of the bullpen if he made it back, but he never could. (A back injury sustained in August while lifting weights didn’t help matters, either.) Lilly had shoulder surgery on September 21, his second shoulder procedure in the last three years, and is expected to be ready for spring training.
Will he have a roster spot to return to? It’s hard to say right now; much depends on the health of Chad Billingsley and any possible additions the Dodgers intend to make to a rotation which already has six starters under contract for 2013. I have no problem with a healthy Lilly in the rotation; I also absolutely don’t see his presence in any way being a roadblock to upgrading the rotation if it comes to that. My guess is that his salary, age, and injury history make him difficult if not impossible to trade, and so he might just find himself spending his last season with the Dodgers in the bullpen.
Next up! Stephen Fife is still wondering where is the fife and if he may have the fife!