2013 Dodgers in Review #24: SP Ted Lilly

November 23, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Posted in 2013 in Review, Ted Lilly | Leave a comment


5.09 ERA / 5.18 FIP 23 IP 7.04 K/9 3.91 BB/9 -0.2 fWAR (F)

2013 in brief: Five starts, three disabled list trips, multiple disagreements with management…and a DFA in a pear tree.

2014 status: Never did catch on with another club and at 38 in January, his 15-year career is likely over.

Previous: 2010 | 2011 | 2012


I’m breaking my own rules here on Ted Lilly‘s review, in that I’m focusing on his Dodger career more than just the few games that defined his 2013. Why? Partially because I was out of town when he was DFA’d, so I never got to recap his tenure, but mostly because his 2013 was so depressing that I can’t stand to only include that.

So yeah, sorry: this is going to be long. A lot longer than you really care to think about Ted Lilly, anyway.

Lilly arrived in Los Angeles as a rental midway through 2010 in a deal that seemed unpopular at the time mostly because it involved Ryan Theriot, but looked better in retrospect as Blake DeWitt failed to develop into a major league regular. Yet while Lilly’s solid performance down the stretch that year was welcomed, do remember how we felt about the 3/$33m contract he received that October:

I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?

So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?

I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.

I’m trying not to hyper-extend my arm too much attempting to pat myself on the back for that last sentence. Let’s look at what the team ended up getting out of his three-year deal.

In 2011, Lilly made 33 starts and pitched 192.2 innings, contributing a 3.97 ERA and a 4.21 FIP. That’s roughly in line with his career numbers and earned him a C- in our year in review post, which I’ll now say is probably too low, and where I noted that “the funny thing is, as I look back through the year of posts, Lilly was just sort of “there”. He was rarely bad enough to get killed, nor was he effective enough that he really stood out. Scrolling through the database, I see more than a few times where I note a solid Lilly outing that avoided a “what’s wrong with Ted Lilly” post after several bad starts.”

In 2012, he made just 8 starts over 48.2 innings, putting up a 3.14 ERA and 3.92 FIP — in addition to a 5-1 record that generated dozens of “off to the best start of his career” stories despite a marked increase in walks and a huge decrease in strikeouts, living off a .224 BABIP that was never sustainable. (Funny how those people praising him for the wins never seemed to notice that the Dodgers scored six runs or more in five of his seven starts.) If anything, the bad shoulder that ended his season allowed him to avoid the regression that was absolutely coming. He never did make it back, and earned himself a D- in the yearly review.

In 2013, things got a little messy as he joined Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in the group of extra starting pitchers as Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu came aboard, but while Capuano managed to be useful and Harang was quickly traded, Lilly never found a role.

Lilly was limited by an illness for much of the spring, and looked bad enough when he did pitch that I jokingly asked if they could “gin up a disabled list stint for him”. That’s basically exactly what happened, since his eventual trip there wasn’t something he particularly agreed with. Lilly eventually returned on April 24 in New York after Chad Billingsley, Capuano, & Greinke were all injured, and while he was surprisingly decent in his first start, he was so awful in his second start that it made me write things like this:

Ted Lilly is, I’m sad to say, done — done to the extent I haven’t seen since Jason Schmidt was trying to make it back. Like with Schmidt, we take no joy in this, because it’s not fun to watch a pitcher who had been a productive player for more than a decade fall off a cliff like this. But here we are, and he simply cannot start for the Dodgers ever again. With an off day on Thursday, Chris Capuano making what may need to be his only rehab start on Wednesday, and Matt Magill still on the roster, he might never need to. Let’s hope that’s how it turns out.

It later came out that Lilly was pitching with soreness in his back during that outing — which angered the team because he hadn’t told them — and landed on the shelf again. They reluctantly brought him back near the end of May, and he had made three mediocre starts when this happened:

I joked at the time that it was a near-certainty that being checked by the massive Kyle Blanks would land Lilly on the DL, but it ended up being true, since he was sidelined again after this with “a chronic neck” problem. Lilly never again pitched for the Dodgers, although reports surfaced that he’d hoped to become a reliever, and the last we saw of him was when he was activated for a single, bizarre day in Toronto in July. He was ultimately DFA’d the next day after a disagreement about whether he would accept a minor league assignment to prove he could indeed come out of the bullpen, and that was that — other than an aborted attempt to sign with San Francisco.

So over the course of the three-year contract, Lilly gave the Dodgers 46 starts of 3.93 ERA pitching, worth 1.8 fWAR. That’s a pretty lousy return on investment for $33 million — especially when it was pretty obvious from the start that the odds of this deal turning out well for the club were low. He’s now in Venezuela, attempting to find a job for next year after having his nerves cauterized — no, really — and while I imagine some team might toss him an NRI, it won’t be the Dodgers.


Next! Matt Magill, probably!


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