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Not Top Billing(sley)

After yesterday’s seven-run, four-inning fiasco against the Reds, Chad Billingsley is sporting some ugly numbers. His current 4.65 ERA is the worst that number has been at this point in the season. Last year’s 4.34 ERA on June 15th was his second-worst, though, and something has been amiss in his repertoire since as early as 2009. As the doubles kept falling in on Wednesday, the twitter questions began pouring in: “What’s wrong with Chad Billingsley?”

The easy answer is nothing. His 8.09 K/9 is basically the same as his career number (8.18). So is his 3.84 BB/9 (3.86 career). His fastball velocity is still right around 91-92, and he’s still using the same pitching mix as ever. This could just be his ongoing below-average control working hand-in-hand with his career-worst BABIP (.336). It could.

Watching yesterday’s game, you can get that BABIP feeling. In the second inning, Brandon Phillips hit a dink that was a hair away from an out. Fred Lewis‘ double later that same inning was a hair fair. In the third inning, Edgar Renteria slapped a single into right field that wasn’t lined with authority. Jonny Gomes broke his bat on a flare single that prompted Vin Scully to exclaim that he’d “be happy with that.”

Then again, there were some moments that were all poor performance. The Scott Rolen double that plated the first run of the day was down-the-middle belt-high. A couple ball fours were way out of the strike zone. He walked in a run. He hit 94 on the gun a few times… on balls. It wasn’t a good performance waylaid by the bouncing ball. It was a mediocre performance that was augmented by some poor luck.

Scanning his pitching mix, it seems that Bills is using his cutter and curveball less and using his changeup more, and that doesn’t seem optimal. By pitch-type linear weights, his cutter and curveball are by far his best pitches. And yet his curveball usage is at his second-lowest level, and the pitch itself is at its slowest. Perhaps there’s something to this. Per Dave Allen, he only used the pitch eight times last night, in 88 pitches, which is far below his 18.4% career usage. Ryan Hanigan‘s two-run single was on a curveball. The pitch broke well enough, but Hanigan seemed ready for it. There might be something off with his off-speed pitches: Billingsley only managed six swinging strikes on Wednesday, and all of them were on fastballs. Perhaps a Pitch F/x centered approach could find something wrong with his curve, even if the pitch is still a positive by linear weights. It doesn’t seem quite right.

Since 2009, Billingsley has the fifth-worst ERA-FIP difference among qualified starters. Ricky Nolasco and Jason Hammel sit one-two in that category. Somehow, this is a fitting group for Billingsley to be in. In recent years, the overall results have not matched up with the outcomes of his individual at-bats. As long as his curveball is okay, though, Billingsley should right ship again. Then again, with Clayton Kershaw in town, he’ll never reach top billing again in Los Angeles.