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.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.