Lidge Tipping His Pitches?

Recap:

Moments before Ryan Zimmerman sent Brad Lidge‘s fastball over the centerfield fence in the ninth inning, the third baseman sent Adam Dunn a message.

Zimmerman fouled off a slider, looked at Dunn in the on-deck circle and laughed before hitting a three-run homer to give the Washington Nationals a 7-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night.

“He let me know I’m not hitting again,” Dunn said. “It’s like, ‘You don’t get the win today.'”

Aside from simply not having the same velocity or control on either fastball or slider, this sounds to me like the Washington Nationals knew what was coming before it ever left Brad Lidge‘s hand. The pitch that Zimmerman hit to win the game was an absolute cookie but it sounds to me like there was some idiosyncrasy that the Nationals picked up to give them an edge.

“I guess you have to tip your hat every once in a while,” Lidge said. “I don’t want to do that tonight, but I have to. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance to do it because I feel pretty good.”

The average velocity on Lidge’s fastball is down to 92.5 MPH compared to 93.6 MPH last year and 94.3 MPH the year before. The average velocity on his slider is 0.7 MPH slower. While his strikeout rate is back to his plateau from 2008 and earlier, his walk rate is up to 5.7 per nine innings — easily the highest rate of his career. From 2005-08, Lidge’s ground ball rate fell around 42 and 46 percent; the past two seasons, it has fallen to 39 and 38.5 percent respectively.

Lidge’s failures are not a product of BABIP. Presently .324, his career average is .329. One can make a case that he’s been home run lucky, but given the small sample of innings, his HR/FB at 17 percent is not outrageously higher than his career average 11 percent.

Note: All stats used do not include his loss against the Nationals as this article was posted early Sunday morning before FanGraphs updates its statistics.

So we know that Zimmerman was clearly extremely confident that he would hit the game-winning home run off of Lidge. It could have been sheer coincidence that he said that and got a fresh-baked cookie from Lidge, but it is more likely representative of some quirk Lidge has that tips his pitches. And we know that the quality of Lidge’s pitches have dropped considerably from 2008. That, combined with his naturally high walk rate, makes for some anxious moments in the ninth inning.

Charlie Manuel has been in Lidge’s corner every step of the way  and it doesn’t appear like any changes are imminent, but Ryan Madson ought to get a shot at the ninth inning sooner rather than later. Unlike Lidge, Madson rarely walks hitters as he is averaging 1.5 walks per nine innings. Madson averages 9.8 strikeouts per nine and induces a lot of ground balls — 54 percent, to be exact. His 2.71 SIERA is right behind that of Heath Bell, the well-respected closer of the San Diego Padres, and slightly ahead of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.

If Manuel sticks with Lidge through August the way he did last year, he will likely end up costing the Phillies several games. Winning the World Series may have garnered Manuel more rope, so to speak, but he is quickly running out. Refusing to use a perfectly good relief pitcher in Madson in favor of a clearly ineffective reliever in Lidge should be punishable by termination of employment.