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.