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.

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69 comments

  1. Pat

    August 02, 2010 02:48 PM

    are you trying to tell me that RBI’s wins and saved arent important!?!?!?!?!?!?!? My childhood!

  2. euphronius

    August 02, 2010 02:53 PM

    I also get caught up in the narrative “We need a closer!!!” but I keep reminding myself they are not that important in the big picture of winning games and as bad as Lidge has been over the past 10 months of baseball he has cost the Phillies around 1 game over a replacement player.

    Strangely it might be BETTER to have Lidge in Charlie’s “closer” role to guarantee that Madson is used most often in the highest leverage situation which could be in the 6th, 7th, or 8th. As soon as Madson becomes “the closer” then he is stuck in the 9th.

  3. Scott G

    August 02, 2010 02:55 PM

    Pat-

    If the Phillies are up by 2 runs in the 8th inning, and J.C. Romero just walked the first two batters (naturally, this would happen), the opposing team now has men on first and second with no one out. Clearly, at this point in the game, you know that you cannot save your best pitcher for the save situation in the 9th because if you continue to use J.C. Romero or someone worse, there will be no lead to protect. In this instance, the imminent threat of having 2 men on base when up by two runs is clearly more high-leverage than a pitcher coming into the 9th up two runs with the bases empty.

    Most managers will not use their best reliever in this instance because he probably won’t go 2 innings and get credit for a save. However, at the point in the game described above, the lead could be lost without “the Phillies” ever using their best reliever (not to be confused with Lidge, the closer).

    I do not have nearly the statistical background as Bill Baer, but this is precisely the topic that has been covered on my blog numerous times since halfway through the 2008 season. It usually involves mismanaging the bullpen when Manuel or an opposing managers saves the best relievers for saves (especially in extra inning games). Another FREQUENT topic of discussion is the use of J.C. Romero vs. RHBs, which should be avoided at all costs.

  4. Richard

    August 02, 2010 02:56 PM

    I can’t believe no one has zeroed in on the most important implication of the story Bill quoted at the opening of this post. That is, clearly the Nationals were stealing signs.

  5. Elmer

    August 02, 2010 03:12 PM

    Bill, fair enough on Madson. I guess I fall into the category of the fans that remember his struggles in prominent spots. Though he did blow 6 saves last year and has blown 3 this year, I concede that he may not be as ineffective as I thought.

  6. Pat

    August 02, 2010 03:13 PM

    Thanks Scott G.

    And yea, I think the use of J.C. Romero vs. strike zones should be avoided at all costs. JC usually loses.

  7. euphronius

    August 02, 2010 03:15 PM

    Madson is far and away the best pitcher in the pen.

    Look at these numbers:

    The good:
    10.02k/9 1.31bb/9 54.1 %hr/fb xFIP 2.66!!!!!!

  8. euphronius

    August 02, 2010 03:16 PM

    Err the 54.1 is GB%

  9. Elmer

    August 02, 2010 03:16 PM

    Oh, and Madson can’t really be much worse than Lidge has been, so why not give it a go.

  10. euphronius

    August 02, 2010 03:23 PM

    If I ran the club I would use Contreras against tough righties, JC against tough lefties and Madson in the highest leverage spots or when there is bunch of LRLR in the lineup. I would be more willing to let Contreras pitch against lefties than JC against righties.

    I would DFA Lidge. A guy from AAA would be better than him.

  11. SJHaack

    August 02, 2010 03:43 PM

    I would use Herndon more in 6th/7th inning situations where there are 1-2 run differences, call up mathieson, and never use Baez or Lidge unless there were 3+ run differences in addition to what euphronius said.

    Interestingly enough, they are actually using Baez in the best possible way without actually releasing him – the 3+ differential games (I’d say 4 but then he’d never be used, and frankly just having a fresh arm is all you need).

    I also would like a pony. :)

  12. euphronius

    August 02, 2010 03:45 PM

    Hahaha I totally forgot Baez was on the team.

  13. B

    August 02, 2010 05:45 PM

    The thing that kills me is that they refuse to get rid of Baez, he’s proven he sucks over the past 2+ years. I didn’t care that they took a chance on him, but he’s proven he’s terrible. Especially when we have legit upgrades sitting in AA/AAA

    Bastardo has a 1.05 FIP, a 0.00 ERA, a whip under 1.
    Mathieson has a 3.82 FIP, a 2.79 ERA, a 1.06 whip
    Schwimer has a 2.96 FIP, a 1.46 ERA, 1.08 whip

    Throw in guys like Stutes, Escalona, & DeFratus in AAA/AA who could all do better than Baez.

    Honestly we have some great bullpen options in the minors right now. It’s hard to understand why we’re wasting innings on Baez. I don’t mind Herndon as the long man as I think actually has some potential. But the two of them limit the pen as Charlie doesn’t feel comfortable using either of them.

  14. Rob

    August 02, 2010 06:04 PM

    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.

    Of course he was extremely confident — he was facing Brad Lidge..

  15. hk

    August 02, 2010 07:22 PM

    Sometimes, like yesterday, having Lidge as the “closer” works to the Phils’ advantage (albeit unbeknownst to Charlie) because he uses his better relievers in higher leverage situations. Getting 7 outs from Contreras and Madson to keep the game tied in the 8th through 10th innings had a lot more to do with the outcome than Lidge holding a 2 run lead in the 11th.

  16. David

    August 03, 2010 02:08 AM

    Validity of saves/closers aside, there is some use to consistency: a pitcher’s ERA represents average runs, but not the distribution. If it’s a save situation at the top of the ninth and thus a 1 to 3 run lead, then we want the pitcher that gives up less than that number of runs over the course of an inning the least often. If it’s just a 1 run lead, we want the pitcher most likely to produce a “shutdown” even if he’s got a higher ERA than another pitcher. If one pitcher with a 3.00 ERA typically gives up one run at a time, then a third of the innings pitched give up a run. If another with a 4.50 ERA typically gives them up in bunches of 3+, then something around a sixth of innings pitched give up a run.

    Now, I doubt that Manuel is going to do statistical analysis to that depth (and I also doubt that there are going to be differences in ERA and save percentages to the degree I gave as an example), but I’m curious to see – which Phillies relief pitcher actually throws shutdowns and/or scoreless innings most often? (I think we all know it’s not Lidge.)

  17. David

    August 03, 2010 02:12 AM

    Er, make that “most often”. And yeah, I realize the irony that a pitcher who throws scoreless innings more consistently than another with the same ERA actually has greater variation in the other direction…

  18. Western Dave

    August 04, 2010 10:37 AM

    I have a question about the difference in MPH over the distance from release point to plate. Is there really a measurable distance betweeen a 95 MPH fastball and a 90 MPH over the 60+ feet? TMQ has done a lot on bogus numbers in football (for example 40 speed turning into sacks). Is a similar debunking merited for baseball? At one point does a fastball hit it’s top speed? In other words, is his velocity being down by a mile or two an hour something that hitters could physically notice? Or is the real problem here the lack of command or tipping pitches? Is too much made of fastball speed compared to say movement, deceptiveness (how different do other pitches look from the fastball?), and difference in speeds from other pitches. These are honest questions. Has there been any research done on this? Can you do back of the envelope calculations?

  19. Bill Baer

    August 04, 2010 03:02 PM

    Dave, it sounds like a lot of your questions are physics-related. Unfortunately, I’m not a physics major so I can’t really help you out here. If I try and recall what little I learned in high school, I’d probably just lead you further astray. =/

    Any physics people here are welcome to try and tackle some of those questions.

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