Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley Are Regressing (Updated)

One year ago today, Clayton Kershaw turned in the worst start of his young career, allowing seven earned runs while lasting only 1.1 innings against the Brewers. After a string of good starts to start the season (not allowing more than 3 ER in any, though with an admittedly troubling walk rate), the Milwaukee debacle alone pushed his ERA from 3.07 to 4.99, showing just how unreliable such stats can be early in the season. As I said at the time, I felt any worry was much ado about nothing, based on Kershaw’s history – at 21 in 2009, he’d compiled 4.2 bWAR, right in between C.C. Sabathia and Josh Beckett. Even the best starters have a rough game from time to time, and the decimated state of the Dodger rotation (at the time featuring Charlie Haeger, Carlos Monasterios, and a pre-mania John Ely) contributed more to the panic over Kershaw’s bad start than anything.

At the same time, Chad Billingsley was doing his best to shake off the worry over the poor end to his 2009 season. He gave up six earned runs in his second start and didn’t make it out of the fourth in his third, leading me to jokingly ask what to do with him, though his next two starts were much better, going six innings with two earned runs each time. (See “And That’s Why You Stick With Chad Billingsley” to relive it all.) There was absolutely concern after the second half of 2009, though he’d ended that year with two promising starts, and his 2007-09 added up to the 35th most pitching bWAR, even despite the lousy conclusion to 2009.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, 32-year-old Brad Penny was off to a surprisingly decent start, this after getting cut loose by the Dodgers after an awful and injury-plagued 2008 and getting released by the Red Sox in August of 2009. Having pitched three of his five games against the noted offensive powerhouses of Houston, Arizona, and San Francisco, Penny’s ERA was a sparkling 1.56, a number which everyone knew couldn’t last as he’d struck out just 18 in 34.2 innings. It didn’t; Penny allowed 14 earned runs over 21 innings in just four more starts before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. The ERA which had looked so good weeks earlier ended up being 6.11.

This is where we stood one year ago today, on May 4, 2010, when Sports Illustrated‘s Jon Heyman dropped a tweet which will surely haunt him forever:

kershaw may be regressing faster than billingsley. not sure. close competition. #howcanbradpennybebetterthanboth?

At the time, it seemed comical. A national baseball writer for a respected publication was claiming that two former first round picks, each in their early-to-mid twenties with a track record of success, were each worse than an overweight 32-year-old on his fourth team in three years? I’ll admit that we all had some worries about Billingsley, though I was confident he’d work through them – he has – but to question Kershaw at the time based on one lousy start was crazy. It’s now gone from comical to ludicrous, if you look at what the threesome have done since then.

Clayton Kershaw, May 5, 2010 – May 5, 2011
GS: 33  IP: 219.0  Line against: .216/.282/.317  K/9: 9.9  BB/9: 3.3  K/BB: 3.1

Chad Billingsley, May 5, 2010 – May 5, 2011
GS: 32  IP: 201.0  Line against: .234/.306/.332  K/9: 9.1  BB/9: 3.5  K/BB: 2.6

Brad Penny, May 5, 2010 – May 5, 2011
GS: 11  IP: 62.1  Line against: .286/.344/.457  K/9: 6.0  BB/9: 2.9  K/BB: 2.0

Yeah, I think I’m pretty okay with the regressing Kershaw and Billingsley, wouldn’t you say?

******

No, I’m not ignoring another Jonathan Broxton breakdown last night. (To be honest, I only saw the first four innings of the game.) But from what I’m reading, this only seems to validate the point I’ve been making all along: whether he’s willing to admit it or not, there’s something physically wrong with him, particularly if he really was only throwing 89-93 last night. Whether that’s an arm injury, bad mechanics, or poor conditioning (a point I’ll entertain while reminding that he’s always been a large guy), I can’t say. But it does point to a real, tangible issue, not the assaults on his manhood or emotional state some amateur psychiatrists like to call out. That’s really the only point I’ve ever tried to make, because I’ve never been blind to the fact that he’s not the same guy; just that 3+ years of excellent work doesn’t disappear so easily without a reason. And on the topic of “reasons”, why isn’t Joe Torre’s abusive usage included in every story mentioning Broxton’s troubles?

Update: Per Ken Gurnick, Broxton has been shut down with elbow pain. It’s very odd to consider this as being good news, but it is.

Dodgers of the Decade: Right-Handed Starter

I have to say, I’m surprised that Clayton Kershaw won for top lefty starter. Sure, he was great last year, but was that limited body of work enough to make him the best starter of the entire decade? Still, the crowd has spoken, so onto the roster he goes…

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)
1B: James Loney (62%)
2B: Jeff Kent (88%)
3B: Adrian Beltre (80%)
SS: Rafael Furcal (87%)
LF: Gary Sheffield (62%)
CF: Matt Kemp (94%)
RF: Shawn Green (79%)
LH starter: Clayton Kershaw (56%)

…and we move on to right-handed starters. There’s a lot of good options here. Do you go with Derek Lowe or Brad Penny, both very good for several years? Kevin Brown, probably the best of all but only during a short period? Chad Billingsley, who may the best of anyone named here when he’s done? Or just say “screw it, I’m voting for Darren Dreifort”? 

Right-Handed Starter

Derek Lowe (135 starts, 2005-08)
Dodger stats: 54-48, 3.59 ERA, 120 ERA+, .679 OPS against
WAR: 12.7

Brad Penny (115 starts, 2004-08)
Dodger stats: 46-33, 4.07 ERA, 106 ERA+, .741 OPS against
WAR: 10.1

Chad Billingsley (100 starts, 2006-09)
Dodger stats: 47-30, 3.55 ERA, 119 ERA+, .707 OPS against
WAR: 10.3

Kevin Brown (94 starts, 2000-03)
Dodger stats: 40-23, 2.76 ERA, 149 ERA+, .623 OPS against
WAR: 14.4

Hideo Nomo (85 starts, 2002-04)
Dodger stats: 36-30, 4.05 ERA, 97 ERA+, .734 OPS against
WAR: 3.3

Jeff Weaver (75 starts, 2004-05, 2009)
Dodger stats: 33-28, 4.04 ERA, 101 ERA+, .742 OPS against
WAR: 4.3

Chan Ho Park (74 starts, 2000-01, 2008)
Dodger stats: 37-25, 3.39 ERA, 123 ERA+, .681 OPS against
WAR: 9.9

Darren Dreifort (58 starts, 2000-04)
Dodger stats: 21-24, 4.41 ERA, 95 ERA+, .739 OPS against
WAR: 1.5

Hiroki Kuroda (51 starts, 2008-09)
Dodger stats: 17-17, 3.74 ERA, 109 ERA+, .665 OPS against
WAR: 5.4

Top three seasons
6.5 WAR Brown, 2000
5.9 WAR Penny, 2007
5.4 WAR Brown, 2003

Tough choices. It’s Jeff Weaver, right?

Who is your top righty starting pitcher?

[polldaddy poll=2442081]

Well, Sunday Ought to Be Fun

Let’s look back at the recent history of Brad Penny, shall we? And yes, I am thrilled to get to use the “Penny being eaten by a tiger” picture yet again.

March 2009, Brad Penny hates Larry Bowa and the Dodgers:

“A lot of stuff went on last year,” Penny said. “There were a few people I didn’t get along with on the coaching staff that don’t respect people. I mean, me and Joe [Torre] got along fine. I just feel like nobody had my back there. You’re in the clubhouse and you have players coming up to you saying coaches are saying this to them about you. And that’s just not a good situation to be in.”

Coaches?

“Your boy Larry Bowa.”

March 2009, Larry Bowa hates Brad Penny:

You mean the same guy who was never on time, out of shape and has one complete game? He has more stuff to worry about in the A.L. East than me. He has to worry about getting people out. He was never on time, was out of shape and never helped the kids out. Put that on the (expletive) dot-com. Put it in the headline.’

He never watched the game (when he was on the DL). Jason Schmidt watched the games. Nomar Garciaparra watched the games. Mark Sweeney watched the games. You go right down the line, everybody who was on the DL watched the games. But not him. He was out of there.’

I’m in everybody’s corner when they work. When they’re lazy and don’t work. I could give a (well, you get the picture).

pennytiger.jpg

August 2009, Brad Penny curses Red Sox fans:

Not only did Brad Penny suck, but the cameras caught him saying “fuck you” when the fans booed him on the way to the dug out.

August 2009, Brad Penny quits on the Red Sox:

Veteran right-hander Brad Penny requested and received his release tonight in a move that clears a roster spot for reliever Billy Wagner and gives Penny time to join a new team before postseason rosters are set.

“I asked for my release and I got it,” Penny said.

August 2009, Giant fans still kind of hate Brad Penny:

There’s one thing that’s gnawing at me, though: the fact that I just hate Brad Penny so much. Besides Jeff Weaver, he’s probably the Dodgers pitcher I’ve hated the most over the past 10 years. He just looks like a guy you’re not supposed to like/root for. His body language is terrible, he looks like Surly Duff from The Simpsons, and he just always screamed “Dodger” to me.

September 2009, Brad Penny still hates the Dodgers:

If the Giants stay on rotation, Brad Penny will face the Dodgers, his former team, Sept. 13 in San Francisco. Told there will be 42,000 people at AT&T Park who hate the Dodgers, the newest Giant smiled and said, “42,001.”

September 2009, Brad Penny hates Adrian Gonzalez:

One of the runs came courtesy of Adrian Gonzalez, whose solo homer in the sixth, which made it 6-2, caused a stir between Penny and the Padres dugout.

Gonzalez took a moment to watch his 36th home run of the season sail over the center-field fence, something Penny didn’t appreciate.

Penny yelled at Gonzalez as the Padres All-Star rounded third base, and after he struck out Will Venable to end the San Diego half of the sixth, Penny clapped his hands and raised his arms in the direction of the Padres’ dugout.

September 2009, the Padres think Brad Penny’s crazy:

Later saying he’d never had a pitcher react so animatedly to one of his post-homer trots, Gonzalez heard Penny screaming at him as he rounded third and went to touch home plate, whereupon Penny removed his cap and aimed his vitriol at the Padres as a team.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Gonzalez said. “I did the same thing I do pretty much after every homer.”

And we get to see this fat lard on Sunday? Outstanding! I mean, it’s clearly just that the Dodgers and their fans were unfair to him, right? It’s not like he’s had any other issues anywhere, ever.

Get those hitting caps on, boys. Also, get the offense going.

You Saying Jesus Christ Can’t Hit a Curveball, Cerrano?

christ-rbibaseball.jpgLet’s do a completely insane roundup to kick off a holiday weekend…

* Mouthpiece Sports has a great collection of the absurd updates people have made to one of the greatest old-school sports games of all time, RBI Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, the “Friedrich Nietzsche pitching to Jesus Christ” version at right is pretty entertaining, if not completely confounding, but I especially like the “dead musicians version”, which they explain to include:

In case you’re wondering, that’s Kurt Cobain taking a conservative lead off first. The pitching rotation consists of Elvis, Dimebag Darrell, Sid Vicious and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

* We’re venturing into “completely obscure degrees of separation” territory here, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Remember the early 90′s television show, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose? No, of course you don’t. In the third season, a new character was added, played by Harold Pruett. The character, described in Wikipedia as an “athletic, good-looking bricklayer” was named Bradley “Brad” Penny. But wait, we’re not done there. Harold Pruett later starred in 1994′s Embrace of the Vampire, which is mostly remembered only for being the movie in which the female lead (Pruett’s character’s girlfriend) finally took her clothes off. That female actress? Alyssa Milano. Which means that she went from being naked on-screen with a guy who’d previously played a character named Brad Penny to dating the actual Brad Penny. There’s something just entirely too creepy in all of that.

* Finally, we’ve all been enjoying the new Andruw Jones-free lives we’ve been given, aren’t we? Well, just to add slightly more salt in that expensive wound, Diamond Leung has an account of Jones’ interview with an Atlanta radio station in which he blames you. Yes, you, specifically.

Asked about fan reaction to his struggles, Jones said, “I think they went a little overboard with it.”

Have you lost your mind? You got paid $36 million to hit .158 with three homers and strike out in nearly one third of your at bats. You admitted in that very same interview that you weren’t in good shape. Hell, none of those three dingers even came in front of the home fans. How can you possibly think the fans went overboard? I’d say that the lack of violent assaults against you constitutes remarkable restraint on behalf of the fans.

So Long, Eliza… I Mean, Brad

And… we’re back.

Last week, as you may or may not remember, we looked at the pitching staff, calling it the most important remaining question, and came to the conclusion that the Dodgers absolutely need to sign at least one and preferably two starters. At the time, we’d said Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets were going to be the best way to go.

Well, since then, Johnson signed with the Giants for one year, $8 million. Usually I’d be pretty upset that our most hated rivals got the pitcher I was hoping for, but I don’t think you can kill Ned Colletti that badly on this one – Johnson’s a native of Northern California who still has family in the area, and if at this late stage in his career, he wants to go home, who are we to stop him? Besides, while he would have been a great fit for the Dodgers, doesn’t it make you feel good, just a little, to know that we still get to hate that ugly behemoth for at least another year?

That said, the Dodgers still need to fill out the rotation, and now we’ve got news on what I do consider to be a large mistake by Colletti (besides the cowboy boots, that is) – Brad Penny’s signed with the Red Sox:

Boston media outlets are reporting that the team has agreed to terms with free-agent pitcher Brad Penny. The reports indicate the right-hander will receive a one-year, $5 million deal and can earn an additional $3 million for throwing more than 160 innings.

87toppsbradpenny.jpgIf you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that I wanted to pick up the option on Penny from the very beginning. After seeing this deal, I now believe that even more strongly. The Dodgers – clearly – need to find some starting pitching innings. The available options are guys who want too many years (Jon Garland, Randy Wolf), too much money (Andy Pettitte, Oliver Perez, Wolf), or just aren’t that good (Pettite, Wolf, Garland). Yet you allow a guy like Penny to walk, even though you have the option to retain him on a one year deal at a reasonable price? Considering that the $2m buyout on his $8.75m option was a sunk cost that he was going to get anyway, we’re talking about a $6.75m, one year deal. That’s slightly more guaranteed money than he’ll get in Boston, but slightly less than he’ll get if he’s healthy and reaches his incentives. Either way, when I say “slightly more” and “slightly less”, we’re not talking about tens of millions of dollars – we’re talking about one or two million in either direction, which for a large market team is a very reasonable risk. 

There’s only two possible reasons to not have picked up Penny’s option, and the first is if you believe that he’s seriously injured. Based on his outings in September, I certainly don’t believe that to be the case (you can read here how guys who throw 96 don’t generally have blown-out arms) and clearly, the Red Sox don’t seem to think so either. Certainly, he had arm issues last year, and it seems pretty obvious that after a good start to the year, pitching through the pain in hopes of scoring a nice free agent deal really did him in. But it wasn’t bad enough to require surgery, and as I detailed in the article linked above, he was bringing the heat at the end of the year. After how good he was in 2006 and ’07, isn’t that worth the risk?

The second goes back to what we’ve been debating all winter, especially with Jamie McCourt’s ridiculous statements: the Dodgers may be playing on the cheap. But it seems especially misguided here, because deciding not to give $6.75m to Penny may now mean that now we have to live with Jon Garland for $40m over 4 years, or the decaying corpse of Andy Pettitte for $10m/year.

Sure, it’s possible that Penny goes to Boston and gets hurt or repeats his dreadful 2008. It’s also possible that you get hit by a bus walking to work today, but you still take the risk of going outside to do so. Life is all about calculated risks, and when you’ve got 300+ innings to fill in the starting rotation, $6 million for one year on a guy with a proven track record seems like a pretty good risk to me when you consider what you’re going to have to pay for some other guys.

Besides, now Eliza Dushku’s not going to come to as many games! Truly, this is the greatest tragedy of all.