Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Ted Lilly? Dodgers Re-Sign Lefty

By Tommy Rancel //

In advance of last weekend’s deadline for exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents, the Los Angeles Dodgers re-signed Ted Lilly to a three-year deal worth $33 million in mid-October.

It’s remarkable that Lilly’s $11 million annual salary under his new contract actually tops the $10 million he averaged under his last deal. Lilly hasn’t gotten worse, but he hasn’t exactly gotten better. Keep in mind, he will be 35 years old on Opening Day. If Lilly’s mostly average, 35-year-old left arm fetches $11 million a year, pitchers like Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, and Hiroki Kuroda should be in good shape on the open market once Cliff Lee signs.

Although he spent just two months in Los Angeles, Lilly impressed the Dodgers enough to lock him up before he hit free agency. In his 12 starts with L.A., he went 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA. This came after a 3-8 record for the Cubs with a 3.69 ERA in 18 games.

Defensive independent metrics like FIP and xFIP – stats that measures strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed and strip out factors beyond a pitcher’s control – show that Lilly’s true talent level in Chicago was closer to his poor record than his better-than-average ERA. Meanwhile – according to the same metrics – Lilly was a much better pitcher in Los Angeles despite the minimal difference in ERA.

The biggest difference between Lilly’s two stops was strikeouts. In 117 innings on the North Side, he struck out 89 batters. After his move out West, he struck out 77 batters in just 76.2 innings – or 9.04 batters per nine innings (K/9). In addition to the increase in Ks, he also dropped his BB/9 from a very good 2.23 to a fantastic 1.76. Home runs followed him to L.A., but the long ball has always been a problem for Lilly (career 1.35 HR/9).

Looking at pitch selection, Lilly used more fastballs and curveballs with the Dodgers while throwing fewer sliders and change-ups. (It should be noted that he also gained velocity across the board after leaving the Cubs, but velocity readings can vary among different parks.)

On the other hand, swinging strikes and first-pitch strikes are not park-influenced. After the trade, Lilly upped his first-pitch strike percentage from 61.0% to 67.9%. He also increased his whiffs from 7.6% to 10.9%. The latter is the highest total for him since 2003.

In some cases, a player’s value or perception may differ from real-life to fantasy. That said, Lilly’s place as a mid-rotation starter is universal. He has been durable (averaged 183 innings over last eight seasons) and he piles up wins. In fact, since 2003 only four left-handed starters have won at least 10 games a year. The list: Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, and Lilly.
There is no rush to lock him up like the Dodgers did, but Lilly should provide value as an SP3 or an SP4 in all leagues next season.

For more on Ted Lilly and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office. 

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