So Long, Ely-Mania: John Ely Traded to Houston

Via milb.com

Rob Rasmussen, via milb.com

This morning, I heard through the grapevine that the Dodgers were close to trading John Ely to an unnamed team for an unnamed minor leaguer — you can guess why I didn’t choose to go public with that, right? — and I figured that maybe it’d be Houston or Miami, two teams desperate for talent.

Turns out, it’s Houston: Ely has been traded to the Astros for 23-year-old lefty Rob Rasmussen, in a rare trade broken by the teams themselves and not the media. Rasmussen was one of the pieces Houston got from the Marlins for Carlos Lee after he refused to come to Los Angeles, so this is coming full circle in a way.

Rasmussen is a UCLA prospect who was a second-round pick of Miami in 2010, and in 60 games (53 starts) for the two organizations he’s got a 7.3 K/9 and a 3.8 BB/9.  A month ago, Marc Hulet ranked him as the #15 Houston prospect at FanGraphs:

Rasmussen is another guy that falls into the muddled group of 10-12 guys that could be ranked in the 11-15 range. The lefty ranks up on my list due – in part – to personal familiarity with him, having followed him since his college days.

A scout I spoke to about the former UCLA pitcher sees a big league role in his future. “I think he’ll be able to get people out at the big league level but he’s got to get the ball down,” he said. “He’s up to 94 mph with two breaking balls. The little dude works his tail off.” Two concerns brought up were his lack of deception, as well as his command/control issues – although he has few red flags in his delivery.

Because Rasmussen has a short, slight build, it’s difficult to project him as a big league starter, although he’s been extremely durable in the minors by pitching almost 300 innings during the past two seasons. He’s also known for being competitive so he could have the perfect makeup for a reliever. I heard a loose comp to lefty reliever J.P. Howell, formerly of the Royals and Rays.

If Rasmussen can find a way to get on top of the ball and create downward action on his pitches while also harnessing his breaking balls, he could be a valuable piece of the Astros bullpen as soon as mid-to-late 2013.

When he was traded in the Lee deal, former Baseball Prospectus prospect hound Kevin Goldstein — now with the Astros of course — graded him thusly: “short lefty has solid stuff and command, but no potential to make an impact beyond a bullpen role.” At 5’10″ and 155 pounds, it does seem like the bullpen is in his future. (He’s also on Twitter: @RasmussenRob).

As for Ely, this comes as no surprise, given that he’s proven little since his short moment in the sun in 2010, and it’s honestly good to see him go to an organization where he might actually be higher than 10th on the depth chart. Then again, Houston (and the AL West) isn’t exactly the friendly home ballpark for a pitcher of his skills.

With Ely gone, the formerly full 40-man roster now stands at 39, opening up room for the two or three more players (outfielder, reliever, etc) we all know are still coming.

2012 Dodgers in Review #36: RP John Ely

2.2 IP 20.25 ERA 6.47 FIP 10.13 K/9 13.50 BB/9 -0.1 fWAR (inc.)

2012 in brief: Minor league pitcher of the year dominated in Albuquerque but never saw more than token September time in Los Angeles.

2013 status: Could be minor-league depth or trade bait, but won’t find room in an overstuffed Dodger rotation barring total disaster.

******

Poor, poor John Ely. After a wonderful season in the minors, he was given merely 2.2 big league innings this year… and picked up two losses for his trouble.

Of course, he never really had a chance. When Ted Lilly went down, Nathan Eovaldi was the clear next-in-line, a role he filled capably for 10 starts before being traded to Miami. By the time the Dodgers even needed an extra starter beyond that, when Chad Billingsley‘s arm woes forced him to miss a start on July 17, half the season was already gone. But it wasn’t Ely who got the call, it was Stephen Fife. While Ely was in the midst of a great season for the Isotopes, it made some small amount of sense:

As we expected, Chad Billingsley was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow soreness, and Stephen Fife was recalled to make his major league debut. I know you would have all preferred John Ely, and I would have too, given that he’s had (brief) major league success before and is having a surprisingly good season in Albuquerque. No, Ely’s not on the 40-man roster while Fife is, but given that Todd Coffey can easily be shifted to the 60-day DL, opening up a spot shouldn’t be hard. So what gives, right?

Well, that was my thinking at first, but in the wonderful world of roster arithmetic, it makes sense. Billingsley reportedly didn’t even want to miss one start and – in theory, anyway – could be back as soon as his 15 days are up. Given that it’s already been 10 days since he pitched, prior to the All-Star break, and since the Dodgers have a day off on Thursday, he could potentially be back early next week having missed only one turn; in fact, Don Mattingly has already said that he plans to start Billingsley on Monday. That being the case, a likely scenario is that Fife pitches tonight, gets shipped out tomorrow for Michael Antonini no matter how well he does, Antonini sits around for a few days and once again doesn’t get into a game, and then Billingsley takes his place next week. While you could get Ely on the 40-man roster easily, you’d then have to keep him on it unless you wanted to DFA him, and if the Dodgers are going to make as many moves as we think they will in the next two weeks, you probably don’t want Ely and Fife both holding down spots. So I get it, I suppose.

Fife surprisingly pitched well enough to earn a few more starts, and by the time Billingsley was lost for good, Josh Beckett & Joe Blanton were in the mix, leaving Ely to serve as expanded-roster depth for two outings in September – neither of which went well. Over parts of three seasons, Ely is now 4-13 with a 5.70 ERA, and while you know I put little stock in either of those metrics… damn.

Of course, that’s selling him a little bit short, because Ely did put together an outstanding season for the Isotopes, one which made him the Dodger minor league pitcher of the year.

http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/2012/07/13/the-resurrection-of-john-ely/

Next season, we’ll be three years removed from Elymania with just Ely having received just 15.1 innings in the bigs. A major league career for Ely seems further away than ever, and it’s not likely to be in Los Angeles.

******

Extra Innings Just Mean More Opportunities For Futility

Oh, sure, it’ll look bad that John Ely, throwing for the first time in 12 days and second time since August 26, got lit up in the 12th as the Dodgers fell 5-2 to St. Louis. I can already see him getting killed, and that’s fine. But let’s be honest here, we’re really going to sit here and blame the ninth pitcher in an extra-inning game, a guy who’s a Quad-A type at best, and say this loss lies with him?

Of course not. With the exception of the extra innings and a surprisingly good start from Stephen Fife, this loss resembles so many others from recent weeks. Shane Victorino went 0-6, somehow managing to answer the question, “can Shane Victorino possibly be any worse?” The list goes on: Adrian Gonzalez contributed an 0-5 of his own. Matt Kemp couldn’t convert a bases-loaded situation in the tenth. Don Mattingly somehow blew through his entire expanded pitching staff in the game and intentionally walked hitters to set up Matt Holliday twice. In 12 innings, the only big hit the Dodgers got was Andre Ethier‘s two-run homer, his 19th of the year. That’s why the Dodgers lost today, not because of Ely; it should never have made it that far. (Okay, and Matt Treanor somehow walked three times, tying a career high he originally set back in 2006.)

It’s now been three weeks since the Dodgers actually won a series, taking 2 of 3 against Miami between August 24-26. Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs?

Taking early stock of the Isotopes

While Mike is on vacation, he asked me to offer up some thoughts about the Albuquerque Isotopes and how what amounts to the Dodgers’ reserve team is shaping up as the season begins. The ‘Topes have only been home for a total of eight days so far this season — they begin their fourth road series of the year tonight at New Orleans (Marlins) — so this is all a very, very preliminary analysis of the 25 players I have observed.

Catchers Tim Federowicz and Josh Bard

FedEx is the man on the spot, the lone Isotope ranked by Baseball America in the Dodgers’ top 10 prospects. While plenty of fans are still smarting about last year’s trade that sent Trayvon Robinson packing and brought Fed and two pitchers to the organization, so far the young backstop is showing promise. “He’s been a lot better this year, he’s a lot more patient,” manager Lorenzo Bundy said of Fed’s hitting (.292/.365/.477). The swing-first, pull-everything mentality from last season is all but gone. Defensively he has looked sharp, making strong throws to second, blocking the plate well and doing a good job of working with the pitching staff. As for Bard, as the Isotopes’ oldest player (34, which makes him the only player on the team older than me … yikes), he has not played much, but he has played well, batting .385 (10-for-26). “Obviously, Josh with his experience … it’s like having an extra coach floating around here,” Bundy said. “He takes the leadership role. He knows his role on this club and he’s ready at any time.”

First baseman Jeff Baisley

Jeff Baisley has been a good presence in the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes.)

The veteran slugger has played well so far, batting .313/.390/.531 with three homers and a team-leading 16 RBI. Though primarily a third baseman with Salt Lake (Angels) last season, he has handled first base well defensively and it clearly has not had an impact on his hitting. Personality-wise, he keeps it serious on the field and keeps it loose during batting practice and in the clubhouse. Though he is viewed as a leader, Baisley said he has not had to overly assert himself so far. He certainly continues the recent tradition of high-character veterans the Dodgers like to have in Albuquerque.

Second baseman Alex Castellanos

Though currently on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring (return date unknown), the converted outfielder has been solid so far at the plate (.366/.477/.746), while overcoming the defensive obstacles that come with returning to his old position. The big issue for Castellanos offensively lies with his ability to overcome his aggressive, swing-first mentality. In the field, throwing has been the biggest challenge, but after a week spent with Dodgers special instructors Juan Castro and Jody Reed (laugh about their hitting, but both were good in the field), Castellanos seems to be adapting quickly. Just calm down on the early promotion possibilities; Castellanos himself said he needs close to a full season playing every day at second base before he is ready for MLB.

Shortstop Luis Cruz

The wily veteran has been on “Cruz Control” since he arrived, smacking the ball around (.328/.343/.500) while making some sharp plays in the field. He is another veteran who keeps it loose; his imitation of teammate Trent Oeltjen‘s Australian accent is a sight to behold.

Third baseman Josh Fields

Nicknamed “QB” for obvious reasons, the former Oklahoma State football standout has gotten off to a quiet start (.289/.375/.526) when compared to his teammates. Nonetheless, he has been a solid contributor. This is no sign of the dreaded “jaded ex-big-leaguer stuck at Triple-A” disease that sometimes afflicts players. Much like Cruz, he seemed to be riding high off his strong spring that nearly saw him make the big-league roster. He has been a positive influence, playing good defense with (no surprise here) a very strong arm.

Utility man Elian Herrera

The versatile Elian Herrera has been a sparkplug atop the lineup. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Bundy said the Isotopes’ turnaround, from a 2-6 road trip to their current record of 11-9, has been thanks in part to the ultra-versatile Herrera. A pure contact hitter (.340/.357/.566), he is Albuquerque’s fastest player and has done well out of the leadoff spot. Defensively, he has looked especially sharp at second base and third base, while also seeing time at shortstop and the outfield. He would strictly be a bench player at the next level, but with Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy not getting any younger, the Dodgers could do worse.

Reserve infielders Joe Becker and Lance Zawadzki

Becker is a favorite of Bundy’s especially with his ability to deliver big hits in the clutch, often as a pinch hitter. He is also a capable defender at second, though he lacks the arm for third and has not played much shortstop. Zawadzki joined the team from extended spring on the last day of the homestand. While I have yet to see him play for the Isotopes, he was a solid defender and a streaky hitter last season with Omaha (Royals).

Outfielders Scott Van Slyke, Jerry Sands, Trent Oeltjen, Matt Angle

Van Slyke, the Dodgers’ No. 21 prospect, has been the hitting star out of this group (.364/.437/.610). He has fared well defensively in both outfield corners, with a strong arm and more mobility than you would expect from someone who is listed at 6-5, 250. He made one start at first base during the homestand, looking a little out of practice there, so hold off on the “he can replace Loney” talk. Oh, and I will sit him down to talk about his life growing up around baseball with his father. His stories are hilarious. Sands’ struggles at the plate (.192/.310/.315) have been well-documented so far. Oeltjen has played all three outfield spots, serving more as a fourth outfielder than anything else. As such, his hitting (.250/.328/.350) has yet to get into a groove with such sporadic playing time. Angle has been the lost one of the bunch, looking all out of sorts at the plate (.146/.255/.268) and now finding himself on the DL with a strained hamstring.

Starting pitchers Michael Antonini, John Ely, Stephen Fife, Fernando Nieve, Mike Parisi

John Ely has pitched well at home, not so well on the road. (Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

Before his call-up to the big leagues, Antonini made one start in Albuquerque he would like to forget (3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 HR allowed). Like many young pitchers, the 26-year-old lefty learned the hard way you have to keep the ball down in Albuquerque if you want to have a prayer of succeeding here. He certainly throws a lot of strikes, but he left too many up in that game. Despite being back for his third season with the Isotopes, Ely has remained upbeat and continues to work hard. He has been a completely different pitcher at home (13 IP, 4 ER) than on the road (7.1 IP, 11 ER). Fife has just plain struggled wherever he has pitched this year (1-2, 9.92 ERA). The big righty is a finesse pitcher and so far the PCL is chewing him up. Nieve went from horrible at Omaha (1.2 IP, 11 H, 9 ER) to solid at home (6 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) to then getting ejected in the third inning of his third start for hitting a batter. It has been a very bizarre season for the former Astro and Met, who throws hard but does not strike a lot of people out (8 total in 10.1 IP). Parisi has been the most consistent and effective starter to date. It should come as no surprise, since there always seems to be one veteran who puts together a solid campaign in ABQ (e.g. Dana Eveland last year).

Right-handed relievers Josh Wall, Ramon Troncoso, Will Savage, Francisco Felix

Wall has looked sharp while sharing closing duties. He throws in the mid-90s and looks like another potentially solid addition to LA’s young bullpen down the line. There is still some wildness (4 walks in 8.1 IP) that needs to be smoothed out. Troncoso has looked like a man determined to get back to the big leagues (1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP), while Savage has been lights out (4-0, 2.41) in the long relief/spot starter role, keeping the ball down and utilizing his cutter, fastball and curveball to their fullest extent. Felix, well, somebody has to take it on the chin, and so far he is doing just that (10.13 ERA in 13.1 IP). As the Dodger bullpen fluctuates, his head would seem to be the first on the chopping block down here.

Left-handed relievers Brent Leach, Wil Ledezma, Derrick Loop, Scott Rice, Cole St. Clair

Rice has been the star of the southpaw collective, sharing the team lead with four saves. He is at his most effective not when he is getting strikeouts, but rather when is able to get hitters to try and pounce on strikes, causing them to ground out and pop up early in the count. Leach (0-1, 6.57) has alternated between looking good and taking it on the chin; personality-wise he has not changed from his year in Japan, remaining the same funny, witty southerner who graced the clubhouse in 2009-10. St. Clair has been similar to Leach in terms of pitching, looking good one outing and struggling to throw strikes the next. Poor Ledezma was walloped in his first two home appearances (10 runs total), but has since settled down and regained his confidence. Loop has yet to appear in a game in Albuquerque.

Overall

This is a better team than it looked after losing six of eight on the opening road trip. The Isotopes pulled off their first four-game sweep since 2009 when they took Iowa apart. As long as the pitching stays at least somewhat consistent, the lineup is more than capable of scoring enough runs. What looked like a pack of spot starters, middle relievers and bench players actually has some players with enough talent (Van Slyke, Castellanos, Federowicz, in particular) to help the Dodgers out in the future. Rice and Wall can be both be part of a big-league bullpen, as well. This team may lack the star power when Gordon, Sands (the good version) and Robinson were here last year, but it is still a fun bunch to watch.

As always, you can find all the ‘Topes news and notes you can handle here and you can now follow me on Twitter as @TopesWriter for quick updates, anecdotes, breaking news and even some play-by-play during home games.

— Chris Jackson

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Starting Pitchers, Part 3

You know the offseason has started to get fun when it’s been over a week since I’ve posted a Season in Review piece, thanks to all the hoopla over ownership and the signing of Juan Rivera. Before we completely turn the page to 2012, let’s continue our look back at 2011 with the third and final installment of starting pitchers, featuring two veterans who combined for 65 starts and a youngster who received just one.

Hiroki Kuroda (B+)
3.07 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 7.17 K/9, 2.18 BB/9

Here’s one of my favorite “pitcher wins and losses are stupid” notes yet: Kuroda set career highs in both wins (13) and losses (16) this year, which must of course mean that he had both the best and worst season of his career.

That’s ludicrous, of course, because the 36-year-old Kuroda had nothing but another productive season, breaking the 200 inning mark for the first time, though an uptick in home runs allowed made it slightly less valuable than in 2010. Kuroda got off to an especially good start this season, allowing three earned runs or fewer in five of his first six and seven of his first nine starts, but he didn’t always get the support he deserved, as we noted on June 14:

The failure of the bullpen and the inability of the offense to overcome it really has to make you feel for Hiroki Kuroda, as Steve Dilbeck points out at the LA Times blog. Kuroda was once 5-3, but has now been hung with five consecutive losses to push him down to 5-8. On the surface, it sounds like he’s struggled, but we know better; the Dodgers have scored eight total runs for him in those five games. While he deserves his share of the blame for the first two, games in which he allowed four and five earned runs, he’s allowed a grand total of five earned over his last three starts. All of them go in the books as losses, despite his season xFIP of 3.50.

And again on June 19:

For 7 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, the Dodgers looked likely to set us up for disappointment. Hiroki Kuroda had sailed through the first seven, allowing just five baserunners before Matt Guerrier threw a clean eighth. After a tough turn around the starting rotation, it was a much-needed boost from the veteran. But yet again, there was absolutely no support from the offense, as Bud Norris and Sergio Escalona held the Dodgers to harmless singles by James Loney and Dioner Navarro, and walks by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. There’s a reason Kuroda has a losing record both for the season and his career, and it’s because of games like this.

And yet again on July 28:

If Wednesday night’s loss to Colorado was indeed the final start as a Dodger for Hiroki Kuroda, it came in the most appropriate fashion possible: six innings of one-run ball, twice as many strikeouts (six) as walks (three)… and yet another loss, since the inept Dodger offense couldn’t be bothered to put a run on the board until Rod Barajas‘ solo homer with one out in the ninth. (On a side note, another strike for pitcher W/L records; Kuroda, Blake Hawksworth, and Mike MacDougal all allowed the same damage of one earned run. Kuroda allowed that much over six innings, while Hawksworth did it in one and MacDougal in one and a third. Yet Kuroda is the one with the blemish on his record. Uh, okay.)

That inspired Jon Weisman to pass along this astonishing note:

Since May 22, Kuroda is 1-10 with a 3.38 ERA.

Of course, noting Kuroda’s misfortune was hardly what we’ll remember this season for, because the “will he or won’t he” question of whether he’d accept a trade at the deadline of a lost season swirled for weeks. Kuroda almost certainly would have been the most desirable starter on the market other than perhaps Ubaldo Jimenez, and could have brought the Dodgers a nice return. It’s amazing to think what might have been if Kuroda had accepted a deal to Boston, wouldn’t it? Perhaps the Red Sox might have avoided a full collapse, and Theo Epstein and Terry Francona might still be there.

Part of the speculation was fueled by Kuroda himself, since for most of July he refused to come right out and say that he would or would not accept a trade. Finally, one day before the trading deadline, he announced that he would be exercising his right to reject a trade and stay in Los Angeles. Though I respected his decision, I had to admit that I was disappointed at the time:

I look at it from more of a “wanting my team to win” point of view, and from that standpoint, it’s hard not to think that Kuroda has hurt the chances to do that, even if only in a small way. A few weeks ago, I noted that I would be more than okay with keeping Kuroda to soak up some innings over the last few months if the deal was just going to be a salary dump, with little in the way of talent coming back. Yet as dominoes have begun to fall over the last few days, we’ve seen that this particular trade season is shaping up as a clear seller’s market. Look at what Toronto was able to do in exchange for some relievers and eating a bad contract. Look how much the Orioles got for 36-year-old Koji Uehara, or the Mets for two months of Carlos Beltran, or the reported return for Ubaldo Jimenez if that goes through. With Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland (maybe) all having picked up starters, that left the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers to fight over Kuroda, the clear top remaining starter. That’s an enviable position to be in.

Instead, we have 8-10 more starts of Kuroda to look forward to, and that might be it if he decides to go back to Japan after the season. I know some will be happy with that, saying that it proves he’s “true blue” or makes the club better for the last two months, but I don’t really see what that accomplishes. At the end of the season, his current 6-13 record will be something like 8-17, and the team will still be several games under .500 and double-digit games out of a playoff spot. Having Kuroda around, or not, was not going to change the fortunes of the 2011 club. Trading him might have helped future versions of the club, teams he’ll have been long retired from, and while I’m glad he enjoys being a Dodger enough to invoke his no-trade clause, he could have also gone on a two-month road trip somewhere and re-signed in Los Angeles the day after the season ended, if he chose. His gain, short-term, is probably our loss, long-term, and it’ll be a bit hard for me to watch his next start without that thought in the back of my mind.

That came to fruition the very next day, when the dust had settled from the unexpected and unpopular Trayvon Robinson / Tim Federowicz deal:

Worse, there’s also the feeling that this goes back to Hiroki Kuroda‘s refusal to accept a trade. Boston writers Gordon Edes and Sean McAdam each reported that Federowicz and Juan Rodriguez were initially discussed in negotiations for Kuroda, an assertion backed up by Ned Colletti’s comments that Federowicz was someone he’d been eyeing for some time. (McAdam says that a third prospect likely would have been included, though he doesn’t state if that was Stephen Fife or not.) Kuroda was clearly higher on Boston’s starting pitching shopping list than Erik Bedard, so if he agrees to the deal, the Dodgers send two months of Kuroda to Boston for a package nearly identical to the one that ended up coming for Robinson. That’s a deal that I think most of us would have been pretty satisfied with – I know I’d have been – and Robinson would have remained in the system. Remember when I said I was disappointed in Kuroda’s choice? Yeah, that paid off a lot quicker than I thought it would.

I know the arguments on the other side of that, namely that Kuroda had the right to choose to stay and that he should be commended for his loyalty, or that Robinson wasn’t stellar in his short MLB debut in Seattle (which again, is totally beside the point) and I understand that. But as we saw, even though Kuroda pitched well down the stretch (slightly hampered by a neck injury) and the Dodgers played well, there was never any chance they were going to get back in the race, so that asset is now lost.

Still, that’s in the past, and for the third time in a year, we’re playing the “will he or won’t he” game with Kuroda, this time about if he’ll return to America for 2012. There’s no one who seriously thinks he’ll come back to MLB with anyone other than the Dodgers, and right now I put it at 70/30 odds that he will return for another season.

I hope he does. Kuroda’s been a solid performer and by all indications a good teammate, and the Dodgers are in the unique position of being (probably) the only team able to buy a valuable asset for one year when pitchers of similar value would require three or four.

Ted Lilly (C-)
3.97 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9

Of the two main starters on this page, it’s a little surprising that it was Hiroki Kuroda who dealt with neck pain rather than Lilly, considering that the veteran lefty was the one who was constantly whipping his head around to see balls leaving the yard – hence the card picture, which come on, I had to use.

To be fair, Lilly improved greatly as the season went on, but we’ll get to that in a second. When he initially signed his 3/$33m deal last October, my reaction was less than positive:

So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?

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.

The fact that it started with a $7.5m outlay this year and increases to $12m and $13.5m in 2012 and 2013, incredibly high numbers for a late-30s mid-rotation pitcher, doesn’t help to ease our uncertainty. The discomfort increased as Lilly failed to make it through five innings in either of his first two starts, and his ERA was still north of 5 even headed into his first start of August.

The funny thing is, as I look back through the year of posts, Lilly was just sort of “there”. He was rarely bad enough to get killed, nor was he effective enough that he really stood out. Scrolling through the database, I see more than a few times where I note a solid Lilly outing that avoided a “what’s wrong with Ted Lilly” post after 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 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.

In July, you can see just how we felt about him during our midseason review:

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Not exactly the sort of start you’re looking to see in the first year of a multiyear deal, particularly from a player Lilly’s age, and at the time, there was little hope for improvement. Yet somehow, he did, perhaps based on this chat with Clayton Kershaw that provided really the only Lilly-based entertainment all season.

No, really: through the first 22 starts of Lilly’s season, the returns were poor, allowing 23 homers, a .791 OPS, and a 5.02 ERA. But beginning with a six inning, one run performance in San Diego on August 3, Lilly was practically a new pitcher; in his final 11 starts, he allowed just five homers, a .543 OPS, and a 2.09 ERA. We noted this on August 15:

Ted Lilly has taken a lot of criticism this year, and for good reason: he gives up homers every five seconds, he can’t hold runners on, he’s now 7-13 on the year, and, oh yeah, he’s still owed about $28m through 2013, when he’ll be 37. He’s given up fourteen dingers over his last ten starts - fourteen!– and only once in that time has he made it through a game longball-free.

Still, after allowing just one run over seven innings tonight (yes, on a blast to Ryan Braun), it’s worth noting that Lilly’s actually been very good lately, since this is the fourth start in a row in which he’s allowed two runs or less. That’s a total of just six earned runs over 26 innings, which is excellent. The catch, of course, is that Lilly has come down with the loss in each of his last three games, since the Dodgers have scored – wait for it – one run in that span. One!

Of course, one area he never improved at was holding runners on, where he allowed 35 steals against just two caught stealing, among the worst rates in baseball.

Despite the roundabout way in which he got there, Lilly had a basically average Ted Lilly season, despite another year of declining strikeout rates. His 4.21 FIP and 3.72 SIERA largely fall into line with what he’s been doing for years.

John Ely (inc.)
6.23 ERA, 5.67 FIP, 9.3 K/9, 5.2 BB/9

Geez, how long ago does “Ely-mania” seem right now?

Ely made only one start for the Dodgers this season, and even that was way back in April. That’s mostly due to the season-long health of the top four in the Dodger rotation, but also because Ely followed up a 6.22 AAA in 2010 with a 5.99 mark in 2011. The usual “yes, but Albuquerque” caveats apply, which, fine, but that’s still pretty ugly. (His home FIP of 4.52 and road FIP of 4.71 are at least a bit less stomach-turning.) Despite being called up in September as depth, he spent most of his time watching, logging just four innings over three unimportant games.

All of which is not to say that Ely has no place with the Dodgers. Every team needs a decent-ish 7th or 8th starter for a spot start here and there. I’d just recommend he get mighty comfortable in New Mexico.

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Next! Javy Guerra, Proven Closer™! Scott Elbert‘s enormous comeback! And far too many words spilled on Vicente Padilla! It’s relievers, part 1!