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Learning from Ted Lilly



Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Ted Lilly throws against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning of a baseball game Monday, July 20, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)You might look at that headline and wonder what you could learn from a guy who was punished by a white-hot offense. The Phillies absolutely played t-ball against him last night in their 10-1 victory.

Ted Lilly allowed seven earned runs over four innings of work against an unforgiving offense that won’t stop raking.  However, it’s a minuscule bump in the road for a pitcher that has been more than serviceable over his 11 seasons in the major leagues.  It’s becoming increasingly harder to find dependable, middle-of-the-rotation arms in the pitching-thin game of today.  What can be learned is that Ted Lilly is a model of productivity.  Maybe not from one game, but in many ways from a decent career.

Over the past few seasons, Lilly has been an outstanding starter for the Chicago Cubs.  In four of the last five seasons, and so far through 19 starts in 2009, the 6-foot left-hander has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched.  His ERA has taken a bit of a hit due to the Phillies barrage, but it remains a healthy 3.56.

You could say that the Phils learned a lot about themselves offensively against Lilly, but that’s not the moral of this story.  The way he throws and his composes on the mound, Lilly looks to be an older version J.A. Happ.  Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be somewhat enthralled if Happ turned out to be in the mold of a Ted Lilly.

They throw the same combination of pitches (four-seam fastball, curve, slider, changeup), with their velocity nearly identical.  According to Brooksbaseball.net, a site that tracks pitch data, Lilly’s fastball averaged 89.47 m.p.h against the Phillies last night, while Happ’s four-seamer averaged 89.34 against Florida in his last outing.  Even the vertical break on their changeup is equal.  Happ is half-a-foot taller than Lilly, but the way they pitch is the important similarity.

In six straight seasons, Lilly has won double-digit games, and is looking to add to that as he currently sits on nine.  He is no doubt the most consistent Cubs pitcher and is thought of as their number two or three starter in the rotation behind Carlos Zambrano, and at times Rich Harden or Ryan Dempster.  Lilly is also a two-time all-star.

If Happ were to pitch with the same reliability of Lilly over a long period of time, it would be a win-win for the Phillies.  Now, whether or not Happ stays on as a Phillie long term remains to be seen.  But if he does, the Phillies would have to be smitten if the bar of quality is Lilly.

Although the blowout win by the Phils was great to see, don’t base the correlation between the two hurlers on one game; look at the whole scope of a solid career put together by Ted Lilly.  With what we have seen so far, it’s very possible that Happ can be even better than the ever-efficient Lilly.  Is that something you’d be interested in?

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