Chad Billingsley made his first All-Star team last season by going 9-4 with a 3.38 ERA in the first half, but then struggled so much in the second half that he was nearly left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster and has now allowed 14 runs in 14 innings this year.
Through mid-June of last season Billingsley was 44-22 with a 3.28 ERA in 530.1 career innings, and at just 24 years old looked like one of the most promising young starters in baseball. Since then he’s 4-8 with a 5.43 ERA in 117.2 innings, including back-to-back clunkers.
Joe Torre has made it clear that he’s sticking with Billingsley in the rotation, suggesting that a lack of confidence is to blame for his collapse. Billingsley disagrees:
That’s not an issue. I’ve been feeling good on the mound, as far as my delivery, my pitches. My arm feels good, my pitches feel good, my mechanics feel good. You have these times. I’m not going out there and walking guys. I’m going after guys. I’m making them beat me. I made some good pitches. I wasn’t walking guys.
As far as everything I wanted to work on between last start and this start, I thought I accomplished it. I mean … honestly, I don’t know. Last year, the second half, I felt like I was battling myself. I couldn’t repeat my delivery. Now, I feel like I’m repeating my delivery consistently. I’m throwing the ball in areas that I want to. I thought I was throwing quality pitches.
He’s obviously just searching for answers, but the problem for Billingsley is that if he’s right and confidence, mechanics, and command aren’t to blame then he’s either injured (which seemingly hasn’t even been hinted at) or simply no longer a good pitcher (which would be pretty unlikely at age 25). Every player goes through slumps, but 120 innings of 5.50 ERA pitching from a 25-year-old who began his career with 530 innings of 3.40 ERA pitching sure seems like something beyond that.
The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.
It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:
On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:
“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.
A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:
No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!
Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:
It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:
I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.
And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.