2013 Dodgers in Review #24: SP Ted Lilly

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5.09 ERA / 5.18 FIP 23 IP 7.04 K/9 3.91 BB/9 -0.2 fWAR (F)

2013 in brief: Five starts, three disabled list trips, multiple disagreements with management…and a DFA in a pear tree.

2014 status: Never did catch on with another club and at 38 in January, his 15-year career is likely over.

Previous: 2010 | 2011 | 2012

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I’m breaking my own rules here on Ted Lilly‘s review, in that I’m focusing on his Dodger career more than just the few games that defined his 2013. Why? Partially because I was out of town when he was DFA’d, so I never got to recap his tenure, but mostly because his 2013 was so depressing that I can’t stand to only include that.

So yeah, sorry: this is going to be long. A lot longer than you really care to think about Ted Lilly, anyway.

Lilly arrived in Los Angeles as a rental midway through 2010 in a deal that seemed unpopular at the time mostly because it involved Ryan Theriot, but looked better in retrospect as Blake DeWitt failed to develop into a major league regular. Yet while Lilly’s solid performance down the stretch that year was welcomed, do remember how we felt about the 3/$33m contract he received that October:

I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?

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.

I’m trying not to hyper-extend my arm too much attempting to pat myself on the back for that last sentence. Let’s look at what the team ended up getting out of his three-year deal.

In 2011, Lilly made 33 starts and pitched 192.2 innings, contributing a 3.97 ERA and a 4.21 FIP. That’s roughly in line with his career numbers and earned him a C- in our year in review post, which I’ll now say is probably too low, and where I noted that “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.”

In 2012, he made just 8 starts over 48.2 innings, putting up a 3.14 ERA and 3.92 FIP — in addition to a 5-1 record that generated dozens of “off to the best start of his career” stories despite a marked increase in walks and a huge decrease in strikeouts, living off a .224 BABIP that was never sustainable. (Funny how those people praising him for the wins never seemed to notice that the Dodgers scored six runs or more in five of his seven starts.) If anything, the bad shoulder that ended his season allowed him to avoid the regression that was absolutely coming. He never did make it back, and earned himself a D- in the yearly review.

In 2013, things got a little messy as he joined Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in the group of extra starting pitchers as Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu came aboard, but while Capuano managed to be useful and Harang was quickly traded, Lilly never found a role.

Lilly was limited by an illness for much of the spring, and looked bad enough when he did pitch that I jokingly asked if they could “gin up a disabled list stint for him”. That’s basically exactly what happened, since his eventual trip there wasn’t something he particularly agreed with. Lilly eventually returned on April 24 in New York after Chad Billingsley, Capuano, & Greinke were all injured, and while he was surprisingly decent in his first start, he was so awful in his second start that it made me write things like this:

Ted Lilly is, I’m sad to say, done — done to the extent I haven’t seen since Jason Schmidt was trying to make it back. Like with Schmidt, we take no joy in this, because it’s not fun to watch a pitcher who had been a productive player for more than a decade fall off a cliff like this. But here we are, and he simply cannot start for the Dodgers ever again. With an off day on Thursday, Chris Capuano making what may need to be his only rehab start on Wednesday, and Matt Magill still on the roster, he might never need to. Let’s hope that’s how it turns out.

It later came out that Lilly was pitching with soreness in his back during that outing — which angered the team because he hadn’t told them — and landed on the shelf again. They reluctantly brought him back near the end of May, and he had made three mediocre starts when this happened:

I joked at the time that it was a near-certainty that being checked by the massive Kyle Blanks would land Lilly on the DL, but it ended up being true, since he was sidelined again after this with “a chronic neck” problem. Lilly never again pitched for the Dodgers, although reports surfaced that he’d hoped to become a reliever, and the last we saw of him was when he was activated for a single, bizarre day in Toronto in July. He was ultimately DFA’d the next day after a disagreement about whether he would accept a minor league assignment to prove he could indeed come out of the bullpen, and that was that — other than an aborted attempt to sign with San Francisco.

So over the course of the three-year contract, Lilly gave the Dodgers 46 starts of 3.93 ERA pitching, worth 1.8 fWAR. That’s a pretty lousy return on investment for $33 million — especially when it was pretty obvious from the start that the odds of this deal turning out well for the club were low. He’s now in Venezuela, attempting to find a job for next year after having his nerves cauterized — no, really — and while I imagine some team might toss him an NRI, it won’t be the Dodgers.

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Next! Matt Magill, probably!

Everyone Saw Ted Lilly Get Run Over the Other Night, Right?

Over at ESPN Insider this week, I wrote about how teams should be wary of trading for Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, because for as great as he is at just 23, he’s had a long and concerning string of injuries. I attributed part of that to his massive size, noting that only three players in history aside from Stanton have been listed at 6’6″, 240 pounds (or more) and managed even 300 career plate appearances — Frank Howard, Adam Dunn, and Kyle Blanks.

That’s notable mostly so I can point out how enormous Blanks is, and then direct your attention to what happened in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game:

Blanks flattened Ted Lilly like a pancake; seriously, Lilly goes flying, while Blanks is barely even slowed. It took me all of about three seconds — which is approximately how long Lilly remained in the game after this, getting lifted just three batters later — to make this joke:

…and now we have this from Ken Gurnick:

Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly will be scratched from Sunday’s start against the Braves because of a chronic neck disc issue. He most likely will be replaced by Triple-A Albuquerque’s Matt Magill, although the club has not made any announcement

Looks like 0.00004% may have been optimistic?

It’s probably not fair to say that Lilly’s injury is entirely related to Blanks, because it’s not the first time this year we’ve heard about neck soreness from Lilly, and he is of course so fragile at this point that he makes a stale saltine look like an unbreakable six-foot thick piece of steel. But this goes back to our ongoing question about why this team gets hurt so much — it’s not all the trainers, because it can’t be — and if this hit did have something to do with it, even though it was clearly unintentional on Blanks’ part, that’d be the second time this season a Padre outfielder has knocked out a Dodger starter by running him over.

Someone keep Will Venable away from Clayton Kershaw the next time these two clubs meet, okay?

So Ends Ted Lilly’s Career…?

lilly_2013-04-29If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time, you know I’ve never thought all that much of Ted Lilly, at least since his outstanding start to his Dodger career in 2010. That was especially true in 2012, where all of the “best start of his career!” hysteria was clearly overshadowed by peripherals that were absolutely headed in the wrong direction. When he injured his shoulder and missed most of the year, it wasn’t “a good season being interrupted” as some would have you believe; it was a way for him to miss the regression we all knew was coming.

Now Lilly’s another year older and coming off another arm surgery, and he likely would have been cut or traded before throwing a single pitch for the Dodgers if not for the undying evil that is Carlos Quentin. Remember, the Dodgers basically forced him on that rehab stint not because he was injured, but because they didn’t feel he could get big league hitters out; that trip to the disabled list was simply a way to buy time in case something awful happened.

Well, something awful did happen, and then it happened again, and then it happened again, so Lilly was forced into duty. He was surprisingly decent in that first outing against the Mets, though we’ll note that it’s the Mets, so he earned another chance.

Tonight he took that chance, and he proved that it’s really, really difficult to pitch with a fork sticking squarely out of your back. Here’s how Lilly’s first four batters went: homer, double, single, homer. Before the fans had even sat down, the Dodgers were down 4-0, and it didn’t get better from there. He finally got an out on Michael Cuddyer‘s flyout, but even that took Matt Kemp nearly to the warning track, and when Lilly came back out for the second, he loaded the bases before wriggling out of trouble. In the third, he loaded the bases yet again, allowing a run to score on a bases-loaded walk to Dexter Fowler.

And that was it. Juan Uribe hit for him in the bottom of the inning, and Lilly’s line reflected 10 baserunners over three innings, and five runs — only four earned, but that was because of his own error. Not once did he get a fastball over 87, and only four times did he even get that high. As Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register noted, at one point Lilly had three of four pitches fail to break 70 MPH. Lilly, of course, was never noted for his velocity, but that also means that losing even part of it could have dire consequences. Tonight, we saw that.

Maybe he’s still injured, and maybe he’s not. I don’t know. But this isn’t overreaction to one bad start, because he’s been declining for years. His K/9, for example, 2008-12: 8.09, 7.68, 7.71, 7.38, 5.73. Last year also saw the highest BB/9 he’s had in years, and we all know about his homer troubles.

Ted Lilly is, I’m sad to say, done — done to the extent I haven’t seen since Jason Schmidt was trying to make it back. Like with Schmidt, we take no joy in this, because it’s not fun to watch a pitcher who had been a productive player for more than a decade fall off a cliff like this. But here we are, and he simply cannot start for the Dodgers ever again. With an off day on Thursday, Chris Capuano making what may need to be his only rehab start on Wednesday, and Matt Magill still on the roster, he might never need to. Let’s hope that’s how it turns out.

Mets 7, Dodgers 3: Now That’s a Gut Punch

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This is Josh Wall. He’s about to give up a walkoff grand slam to Jordany Valdespin. As you might imagine, Wall isn’t exactly the most popular man in the room among Dodger fans right now, allowing a hit and a walk before an intentional pass and the game-ending blast. Wall was indeed awful tonight, though it’s funny how soon it’s forgotten that he was absolutely stellar last night and is only on the team right now due to injuries.

Nor, I might add, is Brandon League, for what will show up in the box score as a “blown save”, though mainly it was for the crime of allowing David Wright to crack a game-tying single in the bottom of the ninth. That came with two outs, after a phenomenal play by Jerry Hairston and a decidedly less phenomenal play by Carl Crawford, botching a soft fly to left that turned into a double for Mike Baxter.

Nor again, is Don Mattingly, for… well, you name it. For sticking with Wall instead of bringing in Matt Guerrier or Paco Rodriguez, I suppose, even though each had pitched three of the last four days. (And one, I cannot emphasize enough, is Matt Guerrier.) For not having League intentionally walk Wright, as though any sane manager would put the winning run on base. For not having Kenley Jansen close instead of League, even though that’s hardly news and there’s a very good argument to be made against it. For essentially taking out Andre Ethier in place of Crawford for defensive purposes, which is sensible even though it ended poorly. Or for bothering to bring in a fifth infielder before the grand slam, because why does it matter how many infielders you have when the ball is in the stands? (Seriously. That’s an argument.)

If you think I’m just sort of spitballing at what Dodger fans are thinking, well, feel free to go check my Twitter mentions, because Dodger fans are — how to put this properly — FREAKING THE F OUT right now. This is probably the best way to describe it…

The real truth? There’s no one place to put the blame here. Wall was terrible. League hasn’t been missing bats. Crawford, really, really should have made that catch. J.P. Howell shouldn’t have walked in the first two batters he saw in the sixth, putting Ronald Belisario in a situation where even a standard flyball to center led to an inherited run scoring. The lineup should have managed more than four hits against Matt Harvey and four relievers. It’s a team sport. It’s a team loss. It almost always is.

It’s a shame, because the poor ending overshadowed some good news earlier in the game. What can we say about Ted Lilly other than that he was wonderful, better than we could have ever asked for, striking out seven over five one-run innings. Even when the wheels looked like they were going to completely fall off — like when he loaded the bases in the second, and allowed hits to the first three Mets leading off the fifth — he managed to wriggle out of danger and minimize the damage. For a pitcher who we treated as less of a realistic option and more of an emergency joke, it was a phenomenal performance. Mea culpa.

Even Matt Kemp finally showed some life, driving in all three Dodger runs. After hustling down the line to avoid a double play in the first to allow Mark Ellis to score, Kemp stepped in against Harvey with two out and one on in the middle of the fifth. On a 2-0 count, Kemp crushed one deep to the opposite field, just clearing the fence in right, for his first homer of the season.

No one’s going to remember that, of course. It’s just going to be about how many different places to find blame. I’m not pleased with how this season has gone so far either, friends. But good lord… perspective. Please.

Is Ted Lilly Actually More Appealing Than Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang?

92topps_tedlillyI’m fully aware of the source here, so take it with a giant grain of salt, but I have to admit I was surprised to see this from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe this morning:

Ted Lilly, LHP, Dodgers — Growing interest in the lefty, who missed most of last season after May, as he makes his way back from shoulder surgery. There seems to be more interest in the 37-year-old Lilly than in Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano, two extra Dodgers starters who also could be dealt. The Dodgers are holding on to all of them until they are assured that Chad Billingsley is 100 percent ready after undergoing treatments to his elbow this offseason that enabled him to bypass Tommy John surgery.

The bit about Lilly apparently receiving more interest than Capuano or Harang is shocking to me, given that Lilly is A) older B) coming off a season ruined by arm injury and C) much more expensive than either. Teams can’t really have been fooled by numbers like “5-1, 3.14″ when they masked some of the worst peripherals of his career, can they? I sure hope not, but I’ve also assumed he’d be the most likely of the trio to stay just because he’d be the hardest to move. If that’s not accurate, then that’s a deal to make, quickly. For reasons we’ve discussed before — namely, his tendency to give up homers and inability to hold runners on base — he’s an imperfect relief option.

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Of course, the big news from last night was the brawl between Canada & Mexico, which was mostly precipitated by Luis Cruz essentially ordering Mexican pitcher Arnold Leon to throw at Canadian outfielder Rene Tosoni. As I sat in Madison Square Garden watching the video on my phone during halftime of the Knicks game, my first thought was, “I certainly hope Adrian Gonzalez isn’t at the bottom of that pile.”

Gonzalez was fine, but I’m trying to figure out what’s more indefensibly stupid here — Cruz’ actions over a stupid bunt by a slow-footed catcher in a situation where run differential matters, which Chad Moryiama details perfectly, or the WBC’s reasoning behind issuing no suspensions:

Because at least one club — and potentially both — will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact.  Thus, discipline will not be imposed beyond today’s seven game ejections.  It is our firm expectation that the members of Team Mexico, Team Canada and all the tournament’s participating teams will learn from this incident and set a better example — one that befits the sport they share — in the future.

So, you can order a beaning, start a brawl, throw a punch, and nothing happens? Awesome. You might as well just outright tell players that kind of behavior is acceptable. Mexico was eliminated when the United States beat Italy last night, but Canada plays the Americans today. You’d think that having Canadians missing today’s game, or maybe even having some Mexicans being ineligible for the first game of the next WBC, might have some sort of “meaningful corrective impact.”

Fortunately, it’s unlikely that any of this affects the actual MLB season, so Cruz should still be in the lineup on Opening Day. Both Gonzalez and Cruz should rejoin the Dodgers tomorrow.

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Dodgers
Rockies
SS
Gordon
CF
Fowler
2B
Schumaker
2B
Rutledge
CF
Kemp
RF
Cuddyer
1B
Uribe
C
Rosario
3B
Herrera
3B
Nelson
C
A.Ellis
SS
LeMahieu
RF
Castellanos
1B
Wrigley
LF
Amezaga
LF
Parker
P
Kershaw
P
Francis

Today’s Dodger game against Colorado is being broadcast only by the Rockies, but it can be seen on MLB.tv without blackout restrictions for those of you lucky enough to have it. (It’ll also be on Dodger radio, both KLAC & KTNQ.) You’ll notice that Clayton Kershaw is not only on the mound but in the lineup as well, as the team moves away from using the designated hitter so their pitchers can get some action at the plate. Matt Kemp starts in center and Yasiel Puig is expected to enter in reserve, so it’s a game worth watching if you’re able.

Also, the team has added a minor-league “B” game against the Reds today, partially due to the rain shenanigans that cost innings on Friday. Steve Ames, Stephen Fife, & Matt Magill will all see time in that game, with Matt Wallach catching.