Despite allowing four runs Wednesday, Chad Billingsley picked up the win and improved to 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in four starts since returning from the disabled list after the All-Star break. Billingsley has rebounded from a rough May and June, mostly by cutting his walks. For the season, Billingsley is walking just seven percent of the hitters he’s faced, a career-low percentage if he sustains it for the rest of the year. He’s been even better since July, walking just more than three percent of the hitters he’s faced. He hasn’t walked more than two hitters in any of his last six starts, the longest such streak of his career.
From the beginning of the season through the end of June, Billingsley walked 34 hitters in 92 2/3 innings; since then, he’s walked just five in 38 2/3. His ERA since the start of July is more than a full run lower than it was from April to June. In the first three months of the season, opponents got on base more than 34 percent of the time against Billingsley; that number is down to less than 27 percent since the start of July.
What’s perhaps even more interesting than the fact that he’s cut his walk rate is the way in which he’s done it. He’s actually throwing fewer strikes since July (63 percent vs 62 percent), and his first-pitch strike percentage has dropped from 64 percent through June to 49 percent since. It follows then that where Billingsley has changed his approach is later in the count. In two-ball and three-ball counts, Billingsley’s strike percentage has increased from 68 percent to 81 percent. His percentage of pitches in the strike zone has increased from 53 percent to 65 percent, suggesting a possible change in approach.
A continued resurgence from Billingsley is critical for a Dodgers team lacking a true number two starter behind Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers are 15-8 in Kershaw’s starts but only 45-44 in games started by anyone else. With Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang both posting ERAs close to 5.00 so far in the second half, Billingsley and his improved control have become an even more important factor in the Dodgers’ playoff push.
Beyond Billingsley, we look at a few other notes from the past week, again with much help from Baseball-Reference.
The Dodgers’ sweep of the Cubs was the team’s ninth sweep of the season. All of last season, the Dodgers swept just four series of at least three games. For comparison, when the Dodgers won 95 games in 2009, they swept seven three- or four-game series. The Dodgers hadn’t swept the Cubs in the regular season since April 26-28, 2002, but they did sweep them in three games in the 2008 NLDS.
OFFENSE CONTINUES TO BAIL JANSEN OUT
Kenley Jansen blew a save Sunday after allowing a game-tying home run to the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, but the Dodgers walked off in the bottom of the inning to give Jansen the win. It was the fourth time this season Jansen blew a save but still picked up the win; no other reliever in baseball has done that more than twice in 2012.
The two teams combined to blow four save opportunities Sunday. Since the save was introduced in 1969, it was only the second Dodgers game in which both teams combined to blow four saves. At Coors Field on June 30, 1996, the Dodgers and Rockies combined to blow five saves in a 16-15 Rockies win.
MULTI-HOMER GAME LOW IN THE ORDER
In Friday’s win over the Cubs, A.J. Ellis homered twice out of the eighth spot. No Dodger had done that since 2006, when James Loney did it in his two-homer, nine-RBI game at Coors Field. Before Ellis, the last Dodgers catcher to do it was Steve Yeager, who did it in 1972 and 1979.
KEMP OWNS FRANCIS
Matt Kemp’s three-run homer off Jeff Francis Wednesday night wasn’t much of a surprise given their histories against each other. Kemp’s 11 career RBI against Francis are his most against any pitcher, and despite a strikeout in his second at-bat against Francis Wednesday, Kemp has homered in three of his last five at-bats against him, dating back to 2010.