You know what they say, you don’t know what you got, until it’s gone. That describes Chad Billinglsey’s story. Dodger fans have an empty place within their hearts, and that emptiness has a name…Chad Billingsley. As this cursed season winds down to a close, Dodger fans have had their hearts broken again. This time it was from Billingsley, but not from his pitching. That for the first time this season right before he was injured, was something of a marvel. But not every story has a happy ending.
After starting another inconsistent first half, Dodger fans were again cursing the day Chad Billinglsey was born. Wasted potential, and inconsistencies are what initially come to mind when someone brings up Dodger’s right handed starting pitcher Chad Billingsley. It has been enough to infuriate and confuse most Dodger fans. We often wondered aloud, what the hell is wrong with Bills? Why can’t he put together two good halves? It was a question that at the time had no answer. Only one man could tell us the answer: Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers drafted the 28 year old Defiance Ohio native in the first round of the 2003 amateur draft. Bills rose through the minor leagues quickly. Bills was terrific in the minors, and the Dodgers had no choice but to call him up to the majors after only a few seasons in the minor leagues. Bills had a career 35-17 record as a minor leaguer, with a 3.18 ERA. Bills posted whiff per nine rates of over 10 every season. For double AA Jacksonville, (2005) Bills was 13-6 with a 3.51 ERA, and 162 whiffs in 146 innings of work.
Chad Billingsley was called up to the Dodgers in 2006. In his first start he earned a no-decision against San Diego, but pitched very well. His 5.1 innings of two-run ball impressed most people. He also drove in two runs with his bat in that first start. He started 18 games that season, and posted a 7-4 record, a 3.80 ERA, and 59 whiffs in 90 innings. The sky was the limit for Bills though. The big thunder thigh-ed righty has a large repertoire of pitches to choose from. He throws a two-seamer, four-seamer, changeup, Curveball, and slider. He even started to develop a cutter with varying degrees of success.
In the beginning of the 2007 season, Bills started in the bullpen, but was later moved back into the rotation midseason. Resident free agent loser, Jason Schmidt’s 50 million dollar arm exploded into little pieces, and Bills rode to the rescue. Bills finished that season with a 12-5 record, and a 3.31 ERA. The next season in 2008 was perhaps his finest year. That season, Bills was 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA, and recorded 201 whiffs, in 200 innings pitched. That year the Dodgers won the NL west, and Bills got is first real taste of the postseason. That season Bills also picked up his first complete game shut-out of his career. On July 30, he blanked the Giants, while whiffing eight.
In the playoffs that year, Bills started three games. The first game was in the division series against the Cubs, where he was effective through 6.1 innings. His next two starts were in the NLCS against the Phillies, and he was not so effective. In game 2 he got hammered, allowing seven earned runs in 2.2 innings. In game three he was removed after 2.2 innings, and allowed three runs. He also received some complaints about not pitching inside to the Philadelphia batters, after an altercation in Game three where there were some brush-backs. The Dodgers lost the series in five games.
In 2009, Bills started out very well again. He won his first five decisions, and picked up his first all-star game selection. However Bills would struggle in the second half, and finish the season with a 12-11 record, and a 4.03 ERA. The Dodgers made the playoffs again that season, but Bills pitched out of the bullpen during the postseason.
In 2010, Bills had a decent year. He posted a 12-11 record again, but his ERA was at 3.57 through 31 starts. Before the start of the 2011 season, Bills signed a three year 35 million dollar contract extension. That season he finished with a 11-11 record, and posted an ERA of 4.21
Everyone was hoping this season would be a return to form for Bills. We were eagerly hoping for the 2008 Bills to come back to us all. For a short while, he did.
This season, Bills started out poorly. In the first half, Bills was only 4-9 with a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts. Talk about underachieving. We cursed Bills under our breaths, and some even wrote him off. Right before the all-star break, Bills was placed on the DL with elbow soreness. After the all-star break, Bills returned with what seemed like a fully rested and healed elbow. But a funny thing happened on the way to mediocrity, Chad Billingsley found the strike zone, and began to pound it regularly.
It was a sight to see. As Bills mowed down the opposition, he allowed the offense to patiently take their time and score runs. It was a perfect recipe for success. Finally it seemed, Bills had put it all back together, and was becoming that number two guy behind Clayton Kershaw that we so desperately needed. In the second half Bills was 6-0, with a 1.80 ERA in those seven starts. Bills whiffed 28, walked only 11, and allowed just nine earned runs in those seven games. Bills attacked the strike zone, and held opponents to a .211 batting average against, and an OPS of .585. On July 7, Bills recorded his 1000th career whiff, becoming only the 12th Dodger ever to do that. Excellent pitching.
The Dodgers won six of those seven starts. Bills was on a roll. Dodger fans began to sing his praises again. With a healthy productive Bills mowing down the opposition, along with Kershaw, and newly acquired Josh Beckett, it seemed like our pitching would be just fine for the playoffs. If we got there. Then it happened.
On August 24, while Bills was pitching against Miami, he felt his elbow tighten in the third inning. He had to be removed. Watching the game on TV, and seeing pitching coach Rick Honeycutt pointing at his elbow was heart breaking.
The Dodgers had hoped to get Bills back at least in the bullpen. It was not to be. Bills had a partially torn UCL, and last week, the Dodgers announced he would be shut down or the rest of the 2012 season. His 2013 is also in doubt, as he may have to have Tommy John surgery. Bills finished his 2012 season with a 10-9 record, and a 3.55 ERA.
Could this be the last we see of Chad Billingsley? I sincerely hope not. I apologize Chad, from Dodger fans everywhere. We’re sorry for the insults and harsh comments we have slung at you while we were frustrated. We want you to succeed, and never wanted to see you get hurt and leave us like this. Whether Bills returns in 2013 or not, the old adage holds true. We didn’t know what we had until it was gone. Now he is.