Rotation Question Marks Looming With Return Of Billingsley



You know who (allegedly) is still alive? Chad Billingsley. It’s weird, his whole recovery arc. Tears UCL, rehabs it, pitches in a couple games, has surgery, is never heard from again, crops up, makes a rehab start, elbow flares up, immediately stops throwing.

It’s been an odd year and a half for Billingsley and the ownership change has made it seems extra long. The organization has seen the signing of Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Ricky Nolasco trade, Ricky Nolasco then, somehow, signing elsewhere for 4 years and 49 million dollars, then after, we saw Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm brought along, They have all made more starts than Billingsley in the time that Chad’s been battling a bad elbow.

To further put into perspective how long a road it’s been for Bills to be back on a major league mound on a consistent basis, Josh Beckett was traded to the Dodgers in the “Punto deal”, pitched all of September of 2012, went through a full offseason with the Dodgers, pitched a month and a half of 2013, underwent thoracic outlet surgery in May of 2013, worked his way back, won a roster spot over Paul Maholm out of spring training 2014, gained favor with Don Mattingly, and the fans, then threw a no-hitter on Saturday.

Throughout Josh Beckett’s Dodger career, Chad Billingsley has pitched in 3 games. Incredible.

So I bring this up, because apparently, Chad Billingsley could be close to returning. Yes, obstacles exist, making through a rehab start without hurting yourself is imperative to pitching. Nothing is a sure thing, but it seems like his barky elbow has calmed down and he could be close to returning. This wrinkle comes at an interesting time for the Dodgers.

Finally all 5 members of the envisioned starting rotation going into the 2014 season are pitching at once, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett.

Now, at no point did I say healthy. Because that’s a hard argument to make. Clayton Kershaw came off the DL and has looked good (disaster start in Arizona notwithstanding) his K-BB is excellent, as are his peripheral stats, Zack Greinke has been doing Zack Greinke things, Hyun-Jin Ryu  had a scare, but is back to being what he is, an excellent pitcher who has a 3.00 ERA for eternity, Josh Beckett just threw a no-hitter. And Dan Haren…

In case you haven’t noticed, Dan Haren has been awful recently. In May, he’s pitched 31.2 IP, batters are hitting .286/.321/.452 off of him, he has a good 3-1 K/BB, but a mediocre 1.15 HR/9 innings. And I know, ERA in small sample sizes is a bad idea, but his ERA sits at 4.26 in that time span. Measuring any stats in small samples is a bad idea, but maybe not here. If you haven’t heard, Haren’s back is acting up again. So he’s probably pitching through some pain, and given the lack of questions elsewhere in the rotation, it’s fair to wonder if Haren’s back doesn’t improve, where will this head?

And honestly, Haren hasn’t been as good this season as his ERA indicates.  3.16 is fairly misleading, considering he has given up 10 earned runs. I know, the Dodgers defense is putrid, and a lot of times the defense has been awful in Haren starts, but a good pitcher pitches out of most of those jams. And given Saturday’s start versus the Phillies (A.J. drops a popup, Haren immediately gives up a dinger), it’s fair to think that his ERA has been bailed out by several putrid defensive showings. If you look at the sheer number of runs he’s given up, you get a number that says 4.77 runs per 9 innings. His RA9-WAR (runs against WAR and incorporates all runs scored against the pitcher) is a putrid -0.1, while his fWAR (fangraphs WAR) sits at a nice 0.8.

So there is some discrepancy between the pitcher ERA makes him out to be, and the pitcher RA9-WAR shows him to be. If you add in the fact that he’s hurt, I tend to lean for the more pessimistic side. This is where Chad Billingsley comes in. Clearly, last year Dan Haren was bad through the all star break. He was putrid, got DL’d, had a hot 2nd half, parlayed that into a pillow contract with the Dodgers. I’m wondering if maybe it’s time to do that. If his back is truly an issue then do what they did last year with Haren, DL him, let him rest, get him ready for the second half.

Haren himself has admitted that his DL stint last season had more to do with his mental and physical fatigue as it had to do with his shoulder, maybe Haren just doesn’t have the stamina to be the 34 start a year type pitcher he was when he was a Diamondback and Angel.

I think Haren has some sort of improvement to do in order to keep a rotation spot, otherwise I could see Billingsley relieving him of his duties when he’s ready to get up to the big league club in Mid-June. It will be interesting to see what happens if Haren doesn’t improve his results, or is too hurt to pitch, we’ll see how much Billingsley’s return benefits the Dodgers.