Seriously. This is supposed to be a post about Ted Lilly, and I can't think of a single damn pun or movie reference or song title or anything to go with his name. I'm sure I'm missing something, but it just absolutely refuses to come to me this morning. If anyone has a really smart title, or a really funny one, I would love the help. Anyway...
[ed note: how about something boring like this . . . not clever, but at least people know what the post is about. good post, btw.]
Ted Lilly seems to be an awfully controversial name around these parts. No middle ground. I think that's really interesting, so Im going to throw my hat into the ring.
I think Ted Lilly is an absolutely perfect fit. He's lefthanded, I'm sure he has other qualities... I jest, of course, but I really do believe he could be an outstanding pickup by the Cards.
Lilly's ERA last year was 4.10. That's a pretty good number regardless, but if you look closer, that becomes even more impressive:
He pitched all of his home games in the Rogers Centre, which, I believe, was either the sixth or eighth biggest hitter's park in all of baseball. (I looked up the exact numbers earlier, but I dont remember what I did with the paper where I wrote them down.) If you look at his home/road splits, his Away ERA is 3.93. So, away from the Rogers Centre, he was under 4.00, which makes him above average already.
He pitches in the AL East. There are really two sides to that, and both figure in a pitcher's favor. First, we all know what kind of lineups you typically see in that division. The Yankees, whether they can win a playoff series anymore or not, did their best to recreate Murderer's Row last year. The Red Sox are only slightly less formidable. Even the Orioles, a terrible team by most accounts, do have guys named Mora and Tejada in their lineup. Hell, even the D Rays can hit. The East has the absolute best lineups that you're going to find. The other half of the AL East is the ballparks. All of the ballparks in that division are hitter's paradises. (Actually, Im not sure about Tropicana Field. I forgot to check on that one.) Camden Yards stops just short of being a bandbox, Yankee Stadium has one of the shortest porches in the game in RF, and Fenway is, well, Fenway. My point is that Lilly may pitch in the worst division in all of baseball for a pitcher. The vast majority of his starts came in hitter's parks, against tremendously potent lineups. Personally, I think that 3.93 road ERA is even more appealing.
Lilly's BAA is extremely low. He allowed only a .196 average against to left handed batters last year. Righties didn't kill him, either, only hitting a .238 clip. His K rate would immediately be the best on the team. I know the Cardinals don't put a high priority on strikeouts, but I think the low K rate of their staff may be a chicken/egg issue, i.e. the strikeout rate may be low because of the team's philosohy, as opposed to the pitchers they go out and get. Carpenter, for one, had a much higher K per 9 with Toronto. The philosophy of the team dictates that he throw groundballs rather than try to strike out a ton of batters. A pitcher who strikes out a lot of hitters is attractive because it indicates the overall quality of his stuff. It is much easier to take a guy with more than enough stuff and teach him to be efficient than it is to try and coach a guy to pitch consistently above his talent level.
So, what we have is a pitcher whose peripheral stats seem to suggest he should be a much better pitcher than he has been. That is Dave Duncan's target demographic. A pitcher like Todd Stottlemyre, who could strike out fifteen batters a game but who never got much over .500, is perfect for Dunc's approach. I think Lilly really fits this mold.
Now, it is true that Lilly is not a groundball pitcher. That does argue against the Cards being really interested, but I dont think that should be as much of an issue in this stadium. As we all saw, Busch 3 actually plays as a bit of a pitcher's park.
My last point I dont really have any stats to go to. I actually watch quite a few Blue Jays games on the MLB extra innings package. (DVR is perhaps the greatest invention in the history of mankind, btw.) I became a little bit of a fan back in 1993 because I despised the Phillies. Over the years I've continued to watch because they always seem to have at least one or two guys I really like. So, this is based entirely on personal observation. Lilly seems to be a mistake pitcher. What I mean is, he is a pitcher who doesn't allow a lot of baserunners, he strikes out a ton of guys, and he can cruise through a lineup with the best of them. There are two real things that get him: walks and home runs.
There are times when he seems to lose his release a little bit, and there are times when he just seems to nibble. Then, when he's walked a guy or two, he'll throw that one really bad pitch up in the zone that gets hit to kingdom come.
I'm not sure, I'm no scout, but Lilly seems to recoil sometimes off his front foot when he lands, hitting stiff and keeping his weight back. That seems to be when you see the gopher balls. Incidentally, Justin Verlander had the exact same problem when he pitched in college for Old Dominion, and they managed to correct it when he turned pro.
I dont know how correctable something like that is, but over the years we have seen that Dave Duncan's forte seems to be making small tweaks to pitchers. A little bit of a mechanical thing, i.e. Jeff Weaver, a little bit of a mental thing, i.e. Todd Stottlemyre. Sometimes it's one more pitch, as when they added the forkball to Dave Stewart's repertoire. Dunc seems to be the best at taking a guy with good talent and making the one or two refinements to put that pitcher over the top. I think Lilly fits that mold perfectly. Duncan preaches throwing strikes, Lilly has a problem being tentative. Duncan can spot a small mechanical flaw, Lilly has what appears to me, at least, an explainable reason for leaving the ball up.
I think that Ted Lilly is exactly the kind of pitcher that could have great success here under Duncan's tutelage. He's a pitcher whose peripheral stats are much better that his main stat line would indicate. There's a lot of untapped potential there, waiting for the tweaks that would allow it to all come out. Just the move in leagues and divisions alone would probably lower his ERA by one third to one half of a run. Add on to that the effect that Duncan could possibly have, and I think you could have a pitcher with a higher possible upside than Zito, at a signifigantly lower cost.