Bye Bye Bills

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I already had to write sad goodbyes to Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp earlier this offseason, and now with some emotion I shall pen my goodbye to long-time Dodger pitcher Chad Billingsley.

Scott outlined the news yesterday about Chad Billingsley’s deal with Philadelphia. Like Matt Kemp, it’s been really hard to say so long to Dodgers who have spent their entire career with Los Angeles becoming fan favorites for many. The new front office regime seems to have no allegiance or emotional ties to any of these players as evident from the flurry of trades and letting go of long-time Dodgers like Kemp, Bills and Scott Elbert.

Even though Billingsley hasn’t been everyone’s favorite over the eight years he’s been in Blue, you can’t argue that he was a solid starter for many years for the Dodgers behind Clayton Kershaw and a myriad of other starters who have come and go. Looking at his ERA or win-loss records can’t really do him justice as far as his value over those eight seasons. Many games Billingsley pitched very well but got absolutely no run support from his team.

I’ve written many articles about Chad Billingsley and how I felt that he still had a place on the Dodgers. I felt that the Dodgers shouldn’t count him out and also on my sadness surrounding his possible departure from the only team he has ever known.  Before the 2013 season started, I wrote about Chad Billingsley’s comeback and the effect on the Dodgers for that season. Losing Billingsley for the year was a big loss after many of the other Dodger starters went down with injuries.

I thought that Bills could beat the odds, but he ended up succumbing to a second elbow surgery after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. My excitement of seeing Billingsley in Spring Training camp quickly turned into disappointment after he pitched in just three innings for Rancho Cucamonga. He did strike out three batters in those two brief starts.

Chad Billingsley works out during Spring Training 2014. Photo: Stacie Wheeler

I thought that the Dodgers could take an inexpensive risk by signing Billingsley to an incentive laden deal like Philadelphia did in order to provide more starting pitching depth behind a vulnerable backend to their rotation which features Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. If Bills should bounce back to form, he’s still only 30-years old, then the investment would pay off.

Instead, the Dodgers chose to take a risk with the injury laden Brett Anderson. Besides Billingsley’s elbow issues and surgeries, he had been reliable for the Dodgers over many years and made at least 30 starts for four consecutive years before his 2012 season was cut short when he chose to try to rehab his elbow without going under the knife. There was a freak accident in 2008 when he slipped on some ice in front of his home and fractured his fibula in his left leg, but Bills was relatively healthy throughout his career until 2012.

Anderson’s $10 million contract is a gamble seeing that he hasn’t pitched more than 45 innings since 2011. Right now if Anderson or any of the other starters goes down with injury, the starting pitching options are slim. Carlos Frias will inevitably get some spot starts.

Billingsley may be  remembered mainly for his postseason appearances for the Dodgers when he struggled. The 2008 NLCS ironically versus his new team left Dodger fans angry and presuming that Billingsley didn’t have the heart to pitch in playoff games. After pitching well against the Cubs in the NLDS, his two starts in the NLCS were rough. He allowed 8 runs on 8 hits over a disastrous 2 1/3 innings in Game 2 which led to the Phillies winning 8-5. The Phillies’ 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 was the most heartbreaking loss for Bills and the Dodgers. Cole Hamels (future Dodger I hope) took the win after Bills was knocked around for 3 runs on 4 hits in 2 2/3 innings including a homerun allowed to now Dodger Jimmy Rollins.

Everything comes around full circle, doesn’t it? Rollins is in L.A. and Bills is now in Philly.

As we have seen from Clayton Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason, the playoffs are an entirely different entity from the regular season. I understand the frustration. After all losing to Philadelphia in two consecutive years was just as devastating as being knocked out by the St. Louis Cardinals two years in a row.

Even though he never lived up to the “second ace” expectations when he pitched with Kershaw in the rotation, Chad Billingsley was an important part of the Dodgers for many years. I feel that Bills has been undervalued for many years, and I hope that he can bounce back with Philadelphia to kick start his career again. I’m not sure if the Dodgers extended any offer to Bills, but perhaps the close proximity to his home in Pennsylvania made Philly’s offer more appealing.

I will miss number 58, and I hope Bills is back on the mound soon where he belongs.

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