Very few things make me happier than Brad Lidge's 0-2 slider to Eric Hinske. Similarly, I have avoided any glances of his 2009 bedwetting for the past year. In continuing with Lidge's shapeshifting, he is not either of these pitchers in 2010.
He's an average closer that gets paid like one of the best. Second to only Mariano Rivera in salary this season, Brad's making $12 mil for his ERA+ of 97. Not exactly ideal, but a welcome improvement after the fat 59 ERA+ he pumped out last season.
What's the change? First, he's slowing down his fastball, which helps with late movement. Sitting now around 92, his fastball is a stark improvement from the 93.6 mph barrel-seeking missile last season. The cutter he has added to his arsenal, whether or not he's still throwing it as much as he claimed he would, keeps hitters away from unloading on balls left over the middle of the plate.
Second, he's walking less batters with a slider that stays in the zone more often than not. In '08, he was relying on the biting downward slider that plummeted to the dirt. Hitters offered at it, resulting in a high strikeout rate. Last year, opponents laid off the ball and his walk rate skyrocketed over 5 per 9. By throwing his slider for strikes, Brad's got his strikeout to walk rate at a decent 2.43 (for reference, Chad Durbin's is an okay 2.56 while Danys Baez sports a God-awful 1.02). When he does throw pitches out of the zone, hitters are offering at it 30.2% of the time according to Fangraphs, his highest percentage since 2007. Strangely enough, on those pitches out of the zone, batters are making contact at a 54.7% clip -- his previous high was 38%. I'd like to chalk that up to an anomaly, since he's only faced 118 batters this season, but it's most likely a result of throwing the biting slider less and inside fastballs more.
He has gone the month of August without allowing a run in his 7 appearances (five of which were clean frames). But with 4 blown saves in 20 chances, he's far from a sure thing. And however much credence some people pay to a guy having a closer's mentality (not much, for me), this is no reason not to let Ryan Madson close.
In the same way Scott Mathieson and Antonio Bastardo should have been given more than an inning or two to prove themselves before Amaro sent them down in a tyrannical rage, Madson needs an extended shot at the back end of the bullpen. Charlie has insisted time and again that Brad is "his guy" because "he's all we got." I just don't agree with this in any way.
I certainly swing towards the Sabermetric philosophies, so when such a strong case of old baseball is put on display, my body and mind tend to convulse like Lady Gaga's Catholic school teachers watching her videos. Not a pretty sight. I love Charlie and realize there is tons of managerial massaging he does that can't be quantified, but continuing to go to Lidge when Madson is clearly the better option doesn't make sense.
Check out some selected Mad Dog stats this season. 12 K/9, 6.67 SO/BB (40 strikeouts to just 6 walks), 2.62 FIP -- all with a high BABIP at .345 and a career low Line Drive percentage of 14.5 (lower than guys like Matt Cain and Chris Carpenter). He's now throwing his fastball less than 50% of the time; instead going to a cutter for 20% and a change just under 30% of the time, his highest percentage since his rookie season. His career low of swing-and-miss percentage was 26.6% in 2005. This year, he's chalked up a 35.4%, higher than Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman in every season since 2002, when Fangraphs started keeping track of the statistic.
While the Phillies can continue to win with Madson in the 8th and Lidge in the 9th, switching them would provide a more reliable end of game option for Manuel to go to. Another possibility is that Charlie doesn't trust the likes of JC Romero, Danys Baez, and the tired version of Jose Contreras to get them to the 7th to the 8th unscathed, and with Madson backing them, at least a clean 8th is likely to go into the final frame with a shot. I don't agree, especially with how well Chad Durbin has pitched, and despite the walks, I have more faith in David Herndon than most.
Lidge should be rotated in the 7th and 8th innings with Durbin and Contreras in order to maintain highest win probability. His return to earth from 2009 gives the Phils more breathing room, but as we head into the stretch run, they'll need every lead to be kept there once he takes the ball with three outs to go. He's not a bad option, but he's not the right one either.