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Don't Give Up On Billingsley Yet

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Over the last couple of days, Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts has dived head first into the shark infested waters otherwise known as discussion of Chad Billingsley.  For some reason, Billingsley is a lightning rod among Dodger fans, almost the third rail of team discussion.  It seems he is either loved or hated, with little room in between.

We all know Billingsley's 2009 didn't end the way anyone would have wanted it.  After an All-Star start to his season, Billingsley went 3-8 with a 5.21 ERA and 4.58 FIP since the middle of June.  He ended up not even making a playoff start.  The only other Dodger starting pitcher in history to make an All-Star team yet not start in the postseason in the same year was Brad Penny in 2006, who was nursing a back injury that year.

To me, the most important thing to note is that the book on Chad Billingsley is not finished; it is still being written.  Considering Billingsley turned 25 in 2009, there are likely many more chapters in that book.

Let me know if this story sounds familiar:

  • Former club leader in wins struggles in the second half
  • Struggling pitcher gets left off the playoff roster for his team
  • In fact, pitcher was sent to the minors during his struggling period

This sounds an awful lot like Chad Billingsley (minus the sent to the minors part), but in fact this was the case of Cliff Lee, with the Indians in 2007.  Lee turned 29 that year, four years older than Billingsley is now.  Here is a look at the career stats as starters for these two pitchers at the fork in the road point of their careers:

Player Years Ages Starts IP/GS H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB ERA ERA+ FIP WHIP
Cliff Lee 2002-2007 23-28 125 5.89 9.27 1.27 3.11 6.64 2.14 4.63 94 4.63 1.375
Chad Billingsley  
2006-2009 21-24 100 5.89 8.20 0.78 4.11 8.17 1.99 3.50 121 3.84 1.368

Billingsley holds up pretty well in this comparison to Lee.  Now ask yourself, who is more likely to improve -- a 25-year old or a 29-year old?  The Indians didn't give up on Lee, and all he did was win the Cy Young in 2008 and put up a 1.56 postseason ERA in five starts for the Phillies in 2009. 

I'm not telling you to put your money down on Billingsley for the 2010 NL Cy Young award, but it wouldn't be out of the question.  Billingsley still has time and room to improve, but his established baseline is already pretty good.  To think otherwise is foolish.

That said, the Dodgers currently have a need for another starting pitcher, maybe two.  Roy Halladay, who might be traded out of Toronto, is the name most sought out by many.  Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggested last week that Billingsley, among others, would have to be included in any Dodgers' trade for Halladay.  Don't get me wrong, Halladay would be a huge upgrade over Billingsley in 2010, but why should the Dodgers have to give up one of their best players to get Halladay?  The Phillies gave up minor leaguers to get Cliff Lee in 2009, and the Mets did the same to get Johan Santana in 2008.  If the Dodgers want to acquire Halladay (I don't think they will, due to budget constraints), history suggests they shouldn't have to part with Billingsley at all.