2012 Dodgers in Review #33: SP Ted Lilly

3.14 ERA 3.92 FIP 5.73 K/9 3.51 BB/9 fWAR D-

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.

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Here’s what I said back in 2010 when Ted Lilly signed his 3/$33m deal:

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.

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Next up! Stephen Fife is still wondering where is the fife and if he may have the fife!

Brewers @ Dodgers May 28, 2012: Marcum Vs Harang

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Ted Lilly was officially placed on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation earlier this afternoon. Yet it wasn’t Nathan Eovaldi who came up to replace him, as previously thought; it was lefty Michael Antonini, who had been on the active roster for a few days in April without getting into a game.

Eovaldi is still expected to come up tomorrow to take Lilly’s start, so it’s very possible that Antonini is here just for today, around to convert Lilly’s otherwise-useless roster spot into an additional arm for the bullpen in the midst of nearly three weeks without a day off. While that’s the the most likely course of action, I’ll toss out this idea, too: with Matt Kemp coming back tomorrow and Juan Rivera just a few days after that, it’s not completely out of the question that they send back both Scott Van Slyke and Jerry Sands tomorrow, making room for Kemp & Eovaldi, and hanging on to Antonini as a 13th pitcher until Rivera does return. It’s not ideal, but it’s a possibility.

Speaking of Kemp, I think it’s safe to say that he’s ready. He hit his second homer in two days for the Isotopes today, but to merely say he “hit a homer” is underselling it; Christopher Jackson, writing on Twitter, noted that it left the yard “in less than a second.” Kemp doubled and singled in his next times up, giving him five hits in seven ABQ at-bats, and there was a part of me that wasn’t kidding at all when I asked if he could get to Dodger Stadium by game time tonight. It’s good to know, as the Dodgers kick off a four game set against Milwaukee, that the true and rightful 2011 NL MVP will be in the park for at least three of them.

Brewers
Dodgers
1B
Hart
CF
Gwynn
RF
Aoki
2B
Herrera
CF
Braun
LF
Abreu
3B
Ramirez
RF
Ethier
C
Kottaras
3B
Hairston
2B
Weeks
1B
Loney
SS
Ransom
C
Ellis
CF
Morgan
SS
Gordon
P
Marcum
P
Harang

 

The Intrigue Around Ted Lilly’s Shoulder Continues to Grow

Last night, we talked about the rumors around Nathan Eovaldi & Roy Oswalt, and wondered what this might mean for the immediate future of the Dodger rotation. This morning, we’re starting to learn that Ted Lilly‘s still-not-completely-understood injury situation may be more serious than we had anticipated…

Ted Lilly will be disabled with a shoulder injury and replaced as the Dodgers’ Tuesday night starting pitcher by Nathan Eovaldi, who will be promoted from Double-A Chattanooga.

It is not known if Lilly will need surgery, but the Dodgers are concerned enough that they were looking for a long-term solution by negotiating with free agent Roy Oswalt before bowing out over his financial demands. Lilly is in the second year of a three-year, $33 million contract.

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.

As for Eovaldi, I like him well enough, but I’ve never been as high on him as others, and if Lilly is expected to be out for a long period of time I do think it makes sense to find a more permanent replacement than to rely on Eovaldi to be a savior. There’s been a few updated scouting reports on Eovaldi recently – here’s a good one – and most paint him as a two-pitch pitcher who may have trouble succeeding as a starter unless he can make improvements on at least one other pitch. That, plus his less-than-dominant strikeout numbers against Double-A competition, have lead many to figure that his future may be in the bullpen. That doesn’t mean I’m against calling up to fill in for Lilly and letting him get some experience with the big club for now, but it does mean that I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of him being a mainstay in the rotation for the rest of the year on a team that plans to contend. (On a somewhat related note, not that I’m advocating calling him up and squeezing him back onto the 40-man roster or anything, but John Ely somehow has 65 strikeouts in 60 Triple-A innings. How did that happen?)

Anyway, all speculation is premature until we find out the extent of Lilly’s injury. For now, it at least explains the interest in Oswalt, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Eovaldi can do in his second taste of the majors.

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Slowly but surely, the A.J. Ellis love train is picking up steam outside of Dodgerville. Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports tweeted his support of our ongoing campaign to send Ellis to Kansas City…

Friend of the blog “The Common Man”, best known for his work at The Platoon Advantage, spreads some A.J. awareness north of the border at The Score

I know this will be hard for some of you to believe, but sometimes we saberdouches miss on a player.  Whether that’s Bobby Kielty, or Billy McMillon, or Daric Barton, some guys just don’t develop the way we hope they will.  AAAA players, guys who simply can’t make the jump from AAA to the Majors, do exist.  Meanwhile, sometimes guys like Denard Span or Melky Cabrera defy expectations and establish themselves as good or even great Major Leaguers, when there’s very little eveidence they will.  We’re wrong sometimes.

But sometimes we’re really not.  And so I’m incredibly excited to see what AJ Ellis has been doing this season with regular playing time.  Coming into 2012, Ellis had managed a .406 OBP in the minors over nine seasons, but with just a .380 slugging percentage, despite spending the last four seasons at Las Vegas and Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League.  In the Majors, he had totaled 244 plate appearances, and had hit .262/.360/.330.  He was also going to be 31 years old and had never had more than 128 plate appearances in any previous season.

And finally, Ellis himself teams with Clayton Krenshaw… I mean, Clayton Kershaw, to bring us what may be the greatest video in the history of the internet… (h/t Dodger Thoughts)

Forget the All-Star game. We need to get Ellis on the Hall of Fame ballot.

What Are The Dodgers Planning in the Rotation?

For all of the uncertainty and change we’ve seen in the Dodger roster thus far, one thing seemed secure: the starting rotation, which has been surprisingly effective and hasn’t yet had to stretch beyond the usual five to make a start. It’s with that in mind that today’s dueling news items about Nathan Eovaldi & Roy Oswalt came as such a surprise.

Let’s start with Eovaldi, who once again made an unexpected one-inning relief appearance last night rather than the start he was supposed to make. That fueled speculation that he’d be on his way to the big club to make a start, and it’s starting to sound like that’ll happen on Tuesday in place of Ted Lilly:

Nathan Eovaldi appears headed back to the Dodgers to make at least one start for left-hander Ted Lilly.

Lilly was off to a brilliant start this season, going 6-1 with a 1.79 earned-run average in his seven starts before getting knocked around for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in Arizona on Wednesday during his eighth start.

The Dodgers would not confirm that he was injured, but Lilly is not expected to make his next scheduled start Tuesday against the Brewers.

It’s odd that we haven’t heard a single word about Lilly being injured, but considering that he did start the year on the shelf with a neck injury and got hit so hard on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, it’s probably not a stretch to guess that he’s fighting through some sort of issue. If so, fine. (And it would really have to be; I can’t imagine Eovaldi would come up for any other reason right now.)

But if the Eovaldi news makes sense, what about the Oswalt business? I’ve been asked about him semi-regularly this year, and I routinely shoot the idea down, saying it’s unlikely that he’d want to play on the West Coast and that the Dodgers don’t have room for him anyway. I still believe each of those to be true, but that only serves to make Peter Gammons’ report that Oswalt worked out for the Dodgers on Friday even more intriguing.

Now, let’s be straight about one thing: I still don’t expect Oswalt to end up with the Dodgers. It’s much more likely that he ends up with the Cardinals or Rangers due to his geographic presence, and Jon Heyman & Ken Rosenthal each report that the Dodgers don’t appear to still be involved. So anyone holding out hope that we see him wearing the home whites in Los Angeles any time soon should probably rein in those expectations.

Yet it’s not the end result that’s most interesting here, it’s the idea that the Dodgers seemed to involved in the first place, given that they have a full five-man rotation all signed through at least 2013 and Eovaldi ready to step in. Was it just due diligence? Or something more, because how would that have worked? Oswalt would be a nice addition to any team’s rotation, but there’s still no obvious fit.

Clayton Kershaw is obviously not going anywhere, and Chris Capuano has been generally excellent so far. Lilly had also been solid before his last outing, and absent any news that he suddenly has a long-term injury, replacing him makes no sense. Aaron Harang has been steady enough as the #5 starter, and while I’d shed no tears over not having him in the rotation, he’s basically done what he was expected to do when he signed. And then there’s Chad Billingsley, who is routinely infuriating and seems to have fit nicely into the Jonathan Broxton-shaped role of “Dodger who fans seem to absolutely and irrationally despise.”

I don’t argue that Billingsley routinely makes me want to throw things at the television, potentially more than any other Dodger, and he’s had some real clunkers lately. But I also know that his 3.88 ERA is right in line with his 3.82 FIP, and that hardly seems egregious enough to get bounced out of the rotation, especially when that FIP is better than both Lilly & Harang, and when his 8.41 K/9 is both better than Kershaw’s and better than he’s been able to put up since 2008. Besides, compare Billingsley & Oswalt’s FIP over the last five years. Oswalt has been somewhat better, but not by nearly as much as you’d think.

You could, I suppose, put Billingsley (or Harang) in the bullpen, though that seems like an odd fit since durability is a large part of what each brings – and neither has pitched in relief in years. (There’s also not an obvious opening in the pen, since I still believe in Todd Coffey & Matt Guerrier is going to be back at some point.)

Again, I don’t think there’s any chance that Oswalt lands with the Dodgers. But whether it’s him or something else, they’re clearly planning on investigating some sort of move there, and I’m fascinated to see what the thinking is.

Ted Lilly Regresses Spectacularly In the Desert

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.

But let’s not focus on that. So Lilly got lit up; it was bound to happen – predictable, almost – and a Triple-A lineup can be counted on to bail you out so many times. Let’s focus on the positive, and that’s A.J. Ellis taking Saunders deep for his fourth homer of the year. Sounds like an All-Star to me, no?