Billingsley and consistency
June, 16, 2012
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Jeff Golden/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley had another typical outing for him, and perhaps it's time to realize maybe this is as good as he is.
LOS ANGELES -- I'm not going to beat up on Chad Billingsley. Not this time. Because I don't want to. And that is all the justification I feel compelled to come up with. I'm not going to do it, because I am tired of doing it.
I'm not going to harp on the fact that, after the Dodgers scored four runs in the bottom of the third inning to come all the way back from the four-run deficit Billingsley had saddled them with, he went out and gave up another run in the fourth, the decisive one in the Los Angeles Dodgers' 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox before 45,210 on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. What I am going to do is point out that the decisive run was unearned, due to an error on a ground ball by second baseman Jerry Hairston, while ignoring the fact that the whole thing started when Billingsley hit the first batter of the inning with his second pitch of the inning, this after brushing Alexei Ramirez back with the first pitch.
I'm also going to point out that Billingsley went 2-for-2 at the plate, pushing his batting average to .208, best of any pitcher on the Dodgers' roster, and that the aforementioned four-run rally began when Billingsley led off the third with a sharp single through the left side. And it could hardly be blamed on Billingsley that his second hit, another leadoff single in the fourth, was the last one the Dodgers would get all night.
I am not going to make a big deal of Billingsley now being 42-45 since pitching in the 2009 All-Star Game, with a 4.04 ERA, except to say that even by today's standard in the post-steroid era, 4.04 is still a pretty decent ERA. Instead, I am going to play up the fact that in Billingsley's two starts before this one, at Philadelphia on June 5 and at Seattle last Sunday, he gave up a total of two earned runs and eight hits over 14 innings and came away with a win each time.
Of course, I wasn't at either of those games. Still, though, I'm not going to fixate on the fact that whenever I see Billingsley pitch, it always seems to look the way it did Saturday night against the White Sox: not horrible, not subpar, certainly not anything that should get him drummed out of the league, but just not all that good, not what you expect of a former first-round draft pick, a one-time prized pitching prospect, a guy who allegedly is his team's No. 2 starter and a guy in the first year of a three-year, $35 million contract.
And above all, I am not going to complain about the fact that it seems as if after every one of Billingsley's starts I witness, I sit down at this keyboard and write the same story. Because the fact is, it isn't true. I was there in 2010 when he went almost three months without giving up a home run. I'm sure I must have been there on July 21, 2010, and on July 30, 2008, when he pitched his only two career complete-game shutouts, both of them against the Giants, and I'm sure he would have been the focus of both of those postgame pieces, and I'm sure both of them were glowing accounts of how great he had been.
So why, then, does it seem like it's always the same story?
Why does it seem like the quotes from manager Don Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt (I didn't even bother talking to Honeycutt after this one) are always the same, about how Billingsley is doing fine but that he just needs to find more consistency? I mean, how much more consistent can a guy be when it seems as if the writers who cover him are writing the same story after every one of his starts?
The answer, then, is that maybe where Billingsley is concerned, this is consistency. Maybe this is his level. Maybe this is the pitcher he will always be -- and given the fact he has won at least 11 games in each of his five full seasons in the majors, maybe that ought to be good enough for all of us. Maybe, much like another former first-round draft pick who plays for this team and is pretty good but never seems to get any better, a certain left-handed-hitting first baseman, we should stop expecting Billingsley to be a great pitcher and be satisfied with the fact that he is a pretty good one.
After all, looking back at last year when Clayton Kershaw was on his inexorable march toward the National League Cy Young Award, it kind of seems as if we always wrote the same story after all of his starts, too.
It's just that those stories were a lot more fun to write.