Tired of the Lidge-Jumping

Even before the new Phillies closer had his second knee surgery of the off-season, there was plenty of doubt cast on Brad Lidge and it had nothing to do with that right knee of his. Ever since that Game 5 three-run home run served up to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS, it seems Lidge hit a mental wall, or at least that’s what those affirming the consequent — fans and media alike — would like you to think.

Lidge, obviously, is one of the few people who has a truly educated opinion on the matter of how the Pujols home run affected him in 2006. In late January, Ken Mandel explained:

He called those 2006 struggles a “mechanical issue,” though he admits he developed a cut fastball for 2007 because he lost confidence in his devastating fastball and hard-biting slider.

By April of last season, Lidge had lost his closer job. During an April game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, he had runners on second and third with no outs. Houston catcher Brad Ausmus implored him to use his fastball and slider, and “see what happens,” according to Lidge.

He struck out the next three hitters.

“I felt as good as ever after that and went through the best stretch of my career after that,” Lidge said. “Earning my job back felt better than if it was handed to me when I wasn’t throwing well. I needed to earn it back.”

So, it wasn’t that he was mentally wrecked after Pujols hit a three-run home run in the 2005 NLCS; it was that he got away from his fastball and slider.

After that game against the Phillies on April 23 until the end of the season, Lidge pitched 60 and two-thirds innings, struck out 81, and put up a 2.82 ERA. He finished the season with a 131 ERA+ and a 1.254 WHIP, impressive statistics for a closer deemed mentally anguished.

Concerns about Lidge now that he’s had a second knee surgery certainly are legitimate, but the latest, a partial medial menisectomy, was a success:

“It really was the best-case scenario that it was the only thing going on,” Phillies athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said of Lidge’s knee. “His other side of the knee that he had repaired was fine. It was pretty simple for us.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki also reported that there’s a possibility that Lidge could be back in time for Opening Day on March 31.

Not too much to worry about with the new Phillies closer, really. The projections seem to agree. Only Marcel puts him above a 4.00 ERA (4.23 to be exact). Bill James, CHONE, and ZiPS put him at 3.44, 3.42, and 3.88 respectively. CHONE and ZiPS both have him pitching over 70 innings as well.

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  1. josh q public

    February 29, 2008 11:45 AM

    nice write up crash,

    ya, but why did he get away from his fastball and slider. becuse he lost confidence in them. because he was menatally wrecked.

  2. MoonDog

    February 29, 2008 11:52 AM

    I know you want to be optimistic for the coming season, but I believe you’re going to regret the Phillies decision to sign Lidge.

    If he had improved so much, why did Houston let him go? Perhaps you’ll make me eat my words, but I don’t see it.

  3. Bill B.

    February 29, 2008 12:17 PM

    becuse he lost confidence in them.

    Pitchers lose confidence in their pitches all the time. Ask any Major League pitcher if they have always trusted every pitch they had.

    Moon, just because a team trades a player doesn’t mean the player wasn’t good. Houston had a new GM taking over a team that’d been scuffling and they wanted to get younger. Lidge is a free agent after 2008, so he’s going to command a lot of money — money that the Astros may want to use elsewhere with their young team.

  4. Rob

    February 29, 2008 02:55 PM

    Nice job again, Bill.

    The myth behind a player’s “demise” often outweighs the readily available facts.

    It reminds me of Dwight Gooden’s drop off in effectiveness, and how it was portrayed. To this day, the conventional wisdom is that he ruined his life with drugs. That could possibly be true. And he hindered his career, for sure, with suspensions that kept him off the field.

    His drop in effectiveness on the mound, however, came after arm surgery. I remember seeing some great data regarding every pitcher who had undergone this surgery, and how they had diminished results once they returned. Gooden eventually experienced the same. But to most minds…he snorted away his ability to strike people out.

    Lidge and his not-so-fragile psyche should get a lot of guys out in ’08.

  5. Nick

    February 29, 2008 04:05 PM

    Lidge isn’t as bad as people suggest, but I wouldn’t consider him cured yet either. There’s something going on his head. In one pressure situations (read before the ninth inning) last season batters hi .168 against him. In the ninth, or later, they hit .257. Something about the pressure in the late innings effected him, maybe getting out of Houston will be what he needs. It certainly can’t hurt, but if he starts to falter, and he is having confidence issues, your fans will destroy him.

  6. MoonDog

    February 29, 2008 04:15 PM

    I’d agree he’ll command a lot of many IF he performs well this season.

    Lidge is making $5.35M this season while the Astros current payroll is a little over $90M.

    Maybe that’s their cap for this season but I still want to know if he improved so much, wouldn’t the Astros have been wiling to pay $5.35M?

    By baseball standards for a pitcher, even a closer, that’s a reasonable salary.

  7. Bill Baer

    February 29, 2008 04:28 PM

    They don’t control him after this season, so if he leaves after the season, the only thing the Astros get in return is either

    A) A first-round draft pick if the team that signs him is a top-15 team.

    B) A sandwich pick if the team that signs him is a bottom-15 team.

    That’s why you see teams trading good players, and it’s why you’ll probably see the Phillies trade Ryan Howard in 2010.

    Rob, thanks. Gooden is a great example of affirming the consequent.

    Nick, also take into account Lidge’s BABIP. It was .354 in his bad ’06 season and it was .308 last season, which points to bad luck. The league average is .285-ish.

  8. incogneat-o

    March 03, 2008 08:42 PM

    Hey it’s me again, so you seem to be of the firm belief that a players success is purely black and white…Do you not think the human psyche has anything to do with performance? You say “So, it wasn’t that he was mentally wrecked after Pujols hit a three-run home run in the 2005 NLCS; it was that he got away from his fastball and slider.” But I ask you, why did he get away from it? Would you not agree that he was mentally affected to the point that he would not throw those pitches? I sincerely want to hear your view on this. Enjoyed the read.

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