Ryan Madson ABC: Always Be Closing

Ryan Madson is the third in a trinity of Phillies players on the receiving end of unjustified criticism in the greater Philadelphia area over the past two years. The other two, as you may have gathered if you read this blog with any regularity, are Cole Hamels and Jayson Werth. The pattern seems to be that the player has a breakout year and fails to live up to it in subsequent seasons. It wasn’t that long ago when Werth was contemplating the end of his career after a wrist injury, Hamels had an ERA approaching 6 at the end of July, and Madson could barely hang in the back of the starting rotation. Note that the low bar for all three was set in ’06 and the high bar was set in ’08.

Following their ’06 struggles, Werth became one of the rare five-tool players in the game, Hamels found his niche at the top of the Phillies’ starting rotation, and Madson developed into one of the most devastating relief pitchers around. If you’re patient with talent, eventually you will be rewarded.

During the second half of ’08, Madson added some zip to his fastball. The four-seam fastball crossed 95 MPH on 83 different occasions, all of them occurring in July or later. From April through June, his fastball averaged 91.4 MPH; from July through September, his fastball averaged 93.2 MPH. Madson also harnessed his control as his BB/9 went from 2.7 in the first half to 2.2 in the second half. Overall, he went from a pitcher with a 4.23 SIERA in ’07 to 3.62 in ’08. His ERA was 3.05 in both seasons, garnering him wide mainstream praise.

Madson’s improvement earned him a reward in January ’09 — a three-year, $12 million contract extension. There were no expectations for him to usurp Brad Lidge‘s throne as the closer, especially since Lidge was coming off of a dominant perfect season in terms of saves and the Phillies had just won a World Series. He was simply expected to pitch in the eighth inning as the “bridge to Lidge”.

Madson continued to excel, finishing ’09 with a 3.18 SIERA and 3.26 ERA. His strikeout rate continued to climb (7.3 to 9.1 K/9) and his walk rate was well below-average (2.6 BB/9). The fastball averaged 95 MPH and hit 97 or higher on 32 different occasions. The average velocity gap between his fastball and change-up was 12 MPH, causing hitters to swing and miss at the change 30% of the time.

While ’09 was a prosperous time for Madson, it was quite the opposite for Lidge. His strikeout rate dropped to a career low and his walk rate increased to a career high, causing him to blow an inordinate amount of save opportunities. Lidge finished the year with a 7.21 ERA and admitted after the season that he pitched while injured. He missed time between June 7-25 and Madson was asked to fill in as the closer. In those nine innings, Madson allowed five runs total (all in three consecutive appearances) while blowing two saves and earning two losses.

Despite the small sample size, Madson was deemed as mentally incapable of closing games. This reputation prevented Charlie Manuel from officially demoting Lidge, and it cost the Phillies several games down the stretch as well as Game 4 of the ’09 World Series — the only World Series game in which Lidge appeared. Madson, meanwhile, compiled a 3.48 ERA in 10 and one-third post-season innings despite a ridiculous .467 BABIP.

Lidge had surgery in the off-season and missed the first month of the ’10 season. Madson, of course, was asked to fill in again, and again he struggled. In nine innings of work, Madson blew two saves and allowed seven runs. This was yet more evidence that Madson didn’t have a “closer’s mentality” although the reason for his struggles was more likely due to a .407 BABIP.

Madson bathed himself in gasoline and tossed himself into his own fire when he broke his toe kicking a folding chair in frustration after another poor outing in San Francisco. He missed six weeks and was fortunate that Jose Contreras filled in admirably. It was the cherry on top of what seemed to be an ice cream mountain of evidence for Phillies fans that Madson was mentally weak and incapable of handling any kind of pressure.

Since coming off of the DL on July 8, Madson has a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.93 ERA in 18 and two-thirds innings. His SIERA is ninth-best in baseball at 2.19. ¬†Although Lidge has been better lately, he is simply not reliable. If and when Lidge falters, Manuel needs to be quick in assigning Lidge’s higher-leverage innings to Madson. Unlike last year, the Phillies don’t have a division lead cushion on which to sit. They are currently two games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East lead and tied with the San Francisco Giants for the Wild Card lead. At the same point last year, the Phillies were up 4.5 games in the division.

Madson strikes out as many batters as Lidge; Lidge walks batters at nearly two and a half times the rate of Madson.

Madson still has a fastball that hits the high-90’s; Lidge didn’t hit 90 once in his appearance last night against the New York Mets.

Madson’s bread-and-butter pitch (change-up) induces swings-and-misses a whopping 42% of the time; Lidge’s (slider) only 17%. Overall, Madson induces 6.5% more whiffs.

Madson is a ground ball machine (50%); Lidge is not (37%).

There is no reason not to make a change, even now. Lidge has an average leverage index of 2.3 on the season while Madson owns a 1.7 mark. Those higher leverage innings should belong to Madson. The Phillies know from experience how close the playoff races get, having won the division on the last day in ’07 and on the last weekend in ’08. Making a change now can pay off exponentially later.

We saw Lidge’s performance in Game 4 of the World Series coming way back in June last year. Yet Manuel allowed it to happen anyway.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

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39 comments

  1. tzara

    August 16, 2010 11:58 AM

    Thank you, Bill, for providing a thorough statistical comparison of Madson and Lidge to upend that flawed Madson narrative. Although for some Lidge may have figured out how to use more effectively his declining fastball and inconsistent slider in tandem (for a save or two), your analysis supports what many “see.” Madson consistently gets swings and misses and ground outs, and Lidge consistently lets them get on base (and often score).

  2. Scott G

    August 16, 2010 12:11 PM

    I think the reason for this bias is part of a height/slenderness ratio. All three are tall, lean human beings. This follows the same logic as to why many people thought Todd Pinkston wasn’t good.

  3. Jon

    August 16, 2010 12:16 PM

    I’m pretty sure people thought Todd Pinkston wasn’t good because, y’know, he wasn’t good.

  4. Bill Baer

    August 16, 2010 12:17 PM

    Wasn’t Pinkston’s nickname “alligator arms” or something because he wouldn’t go after the ball if he knew he was going to get hit? Terrell Owens was the same way IIRC.

  5. Scott G

    August 16, 2010 12:54 PM

    Really? I thought people didn’t like him because he had a large height-to-slenderness ratio. Strange.

    lol

  6. CH Phan

    August 16, 2010 01:37 PM

    I thought studies had shown: tall>short; slender>heavier; decent-looking>non-descript; young>old, etc. Stats say taller folks have a gen higher “success” rate in life.

    This doesn’t mean I think as fans we should beat-up on them for no reason, at any opp whatsoever. I may not be a huge Cole Hamels fan but I’m not certain he deserved last season’s bashing. I’m on record as a backer of Werth. I don’t think he’s deserved much, if any, of the bashing he’s received. Most has been baseless (dis-liking his body language & assuming we know what’s ‘troubling’ his head) and scapegoat in nature (blame for the team-wide slump – his fault). Some was literally vicious (the repellent rumor), the rest emotional nonsense. As for Madson, I haven’t seen that he’s suffered the same level of bashing. But I do understand you putting him in this category.

    I think Hamels has learned to keep his feelings to himself & say little to the press, as he didn’t help himself last season. Even he’d have to admit. Werth for his part seems fine talking about the games but never talks personally unless he’s relentlessly prodded. He’s talked about wanting to stay in Phila, & even those statements were taken out of context & somehow used against him. And he still won’t talk. Truthfully, I admire that. Madson seems to do the same as Werth. Good for him (them).

    All of this says more about sports “journalism” and the fans (who believe the hooey) than it does about these players.

  7. hunterfan

    August 16, 2010 02:51 PM

    Is your contention that all relievers handle all innings equally well and that their numbers translate equally to any inning? Is there a study on this? Because before asserting that because Madson is great in the 8th, he’d be equally great in the 9th (given enough time and luck evening out) is not necessarily something I agree with. I would assume that more likely than not, the pressure of a 9th inning would cause a certain percentage of relievers to perform worse.

    Can you point me to a study that states all relievers perform to their career numbers regardless of inning? If you can, great, I’ll accept that Madson may be a great closer. If not, I don’t see how arguing Madson is great in the 8th necessarily implies greatness in the 9th.

  8. Aaron H

    August 16, 2010 03:39 PM

    I think it’s not really an issue of who is “closing” (gets the ball in the 9th vs. the 8th)-it’s more of an issue of who’s being put in the more important (high-leverage) situations, and having Madson pitch before the 9th might be better for the Phils.
    I’m not sure of the exact calculation behind the leverage metric, but it would seem to me that it’s a higher leverage situation with men on in the 8th than starting the inning with bases empty in the 9th. If Madson was the closer, he’d never pitch in these situations; instead, Charlie would send out Lidge with his high walk rate out there (see Romero, JC). So by saving the 9th for Lidge, it actually lets Madson pitch in the more dangerous situations.

  9. Andy M.

    August 16, 2010 03:49 PM

    @ hunterfan,

    ryan madson has a 1.167 WHIP in the 9th inning this year. his overall WHIP is 1.157.

  10. Ted

    August 16, 2010 04:25 PM

    hunterfan,

    Discounting the fact the numbers are against your reasoning that Madson is bad in the 9th inning I impress upon you the following information from Madson’s past 6 games discounting his perfect 9th inning on 8/7 vs NYM at home where the Phillies lost 0-1 at home:

    8/15 vs NYM – Madson pitches 8th inning and faces #1-4 hitters in Met’s lineup. His line: 0H 0R 1BB 2SO on 15 pitches. Lidge faces #5-7 hitters and works the perfect inning.

    8/14 vs NYM – Madson pitches the 9th inning and faces #2-6 hitters in lineup. His line: 2H 0R 0BB 1HBP 3SO on 26 pitches. (Bases at the end of the game)

    8/11 vs LAD – Madson pitches 8th inning and faces #1-4 hitters in LA’s lineup. His line: 1H (lead-off double) 0R 0BB 2SO on 21 pitches, stranding the runner at 2nd base. Lidge faces #5-7 hitters and works the perfect inning.

    8/8 vs NYM – Madson pitches 8th inning and faces #4-6 hitters in Met’s lineup. His line: 0H 0R 0BB 1SO on 10 pitches. Lidge faces #7-1 hitters, gives up the one hit lead-off single, no strikeouts, and records the save.

    8/5 vs FLA – Madson pitches 9th inning and faces #1-5 hitters in FLA’s lineup. His line: 0H 0R 1IBB 1HBP 3SO on 19 pitches. Lidge faces #6-9 hitters in 10th inning, gives up a one hit lead-off single, gets 2 strikeouts. and records the save.

    While this is an extremely small sample size, you can clearly see Madson has consistently faced the better hitters in his recent outings than Lidge. Because of which, you can make the claim Madson’s recent innings have been more important than Lidge’s as it is more likely the better hitters will score runs.

    Now rather than just blindly state the claim above, I’ll give you some numbers , specifically something called “Context Neutral Wins” which equals WPA/LI (saberlibrary.com/misc/wpa-li). Basically WPA/LI measures how much value a player provided to their team regardless of the leverage.

    Just looking at yesterdays game vs the Mets, here is the season WPA/LI for the hitters Madson faced via Fangraphs.com:

    Reyes: 0.14
    Pagan: 1.07
    Wright: 1.50
    Beltran: -0.45 (on DL most of the year)
    ——
    2.26 Total WPA/LI

    And now the WPA/LI of this hitters Lidge faced:

    Davis: 0.51
    Carter: -0.26
    Thole: -0.08
    ——–
    0.17 Total WPA/LI

    =========================
    As you can see, Madson clearly pitched to hitters with a greater chance of winning the game for the Mets than Lidge did. If we went back through the season and compared Madson and Lidge’s innings my guess is that Madson has either pitched innings with higher total WPA/LI than Lidge or equal.

    Bottom line is the inning number doesn’t matter, Madson is better than Lidge and has already proven he can pitch high leverage situations.

  11. Bruce

    August 16, 2010 07:30 PM

    Bill,

    Another extremely well-written and informative blog. Well done.

    I think Ted and Aaron H are right. Madson has been working more high leverage innings lately. That, of course, is chance and will not always be the case. Meanwhile, I have often thought that the current way closers are used is very shortsighted. In theory, the closer is the best pitcher in the bullpen. Yet, he sits on his duff unless there is a lead in the 9th. Games could be won which are lost if the best bullpen pitcher had been used in a high leverage situation earlier in the game rather than an inferior arm. Why does it continue to make sense to managers to use their best pitcher less frequently than most other bullpen arms? It makes no sense to me.

  12. Sean Cunningham

    August 16, 2010 08:32 PM

    I agree with these statements.

    Quality post, huh?

  13. anon

    August 16, 2010 10:12 PM

    Contreras, Madson, Durbin, Bastardo, I don’t care who it is as long as it’s not lidge.

  14. anon

    August 16, 2010 10:15 PM

    Here’s another question: Why is Blanton still getting starts when there has been an off day? Since the phils had monday off, couldn’t Hamels pitch wednesday on full rest, and halladay pitch thursday on full rest, and we wouldn’t have to go into the biggest series of the season for us so far, already basically conceding one of the games?

  15. Steven Neumersky

    August 17, 2010 12:20 AM

    Werth ’09: One of best hitters in MLB w/2 strikes. Werth ’10: Not so much. He is chasing high fast balls this year. Time to adjust…no biggie. Will GG make a difference? Is Werth “guessing” with two strikes more often?

    Madson finally fell out of love with the speedier, straighter, less-commanded, “seed me” fastball. He now usually spots it high. As a result, throwing pitches with more movement is the biggest reason for improvement.

    Lidge finally gets it (I think). With the career arm mileage, just locate the fastball. The slider is good enough to keep batters off balance. Finally, it would be nice for him to develop a third pitch (splitter or changeup).

    Less Hollywood, more humility, and better arm strength/body endurance have injected life into Hamels and has helped his better close the door on batters with two strikes.

    Bottom Line:

    Agree with the overall article, I just don’t have the data mining models to do the stats though (LOL).

  16. David

    August 17, 2010 12:49 AM

    Bill: Until you can provide statistics that demonstrate better performances by Madson in all aspects of the 9th inning (not just saves, but also mop-up duty, tie games, etc.) I think you’re going to have a hard time convincing almost everybody; people noticed Madson’s past poor performances, and it’s going to stay difficult to get them out of their heads.

    I say almost because there will still be people who don’t think Madson can be a closer – though we can hope that those people do so because they think that a closer should perform well below a 3.00 ERA.

  17. Sanj

    August 17, 2010 10:44 AM

    Great job of data mining to show the statistics that only support your argument, which is basically all Sabremetricians do for a living. Stats only capture the what a player accomplishes and not the when and how, which are both just as important. They are for people who are just too lazy to watch the games. There is not a single of Madson’s statistics in save situations. Madson was 10 for 16 in save situations last year, and his ERA was above 6.00 when trying to save a game in the ninth or later. He has not fared any better this year. At no point in his career has he ever shown an ability to close a stretch of games consistently. His homeruns and BABIP are not randomly high, he simply leaves way too many fastballs over the heart of the plate that get smoked. No one is arguing whether Madson can pitch the ninth, he is a great pitcher when no one is counting on him, but he cannot pitch the ninth in save situations.

  18. Sanj

    August 17, 2010 11:06 AM

    Also, anyone who has followed the Phils beyond just joining the bandwagon once they started appearing in the postseason can tell you that Madson has been an underachiever his whole career. I am not doubting his talent, I remember his fastball reaching the 98mph back in the day, and he has always had a devastating change. He originally set out to be a starter, but failed to grab the 5th starting spot on bad Phillies rotations in the mid 2000s. He was then moved to the bullpen and had great success, until the Phils tried to translate that success to save situations. His sample size in save situations in the ninth or later is not small considering the time he has been a Phil and the various health issues with the Phils pen over the years. Does he have better stuff than Lidge? Any day of the week. Is he a better closer? Never. Lidge has basically become a one pitch pitcher, but if he at least locate his 90mph fastball like he has in his last 6 outings, he will perform a lot better than Madson can.

  19. mike

    August 17, 2010 11:39 AM

    Wow Sanj…way to ignore half of what Bill wrote and almost all of what was added in the comments. Your first few sentences pretty much give away your agenda, though.

  20. Jesse

    August 17, 2010 11:41 AM

    I agree that Madson is a substantially better pitcher, but given that the 8th inning is just as likely to be important as the 9th, I’m not sure why it matters whether Madson or Lidge closes. This seems like one of those areas where the conventional wisdom is wrong but does no harm.

  21. Scott G

    August 17, 2010 11:57 AM

    Agree Jesse. I think Manuel has been getting lucky with the recent success between Madson and Lidge (I will not give him credit for using Madson in 8th vs heart of lineup and Lidge in 9th vs bottom).

    @ Sanj
    Get a clue man. I watch 95% of the innings the Phillies play every year. I also think very highly of sabermetrics. Ryan Madson has been very good for the last 3 years. I don’t see how you can say he’s underachieving…. I just erased a long chunk of paragraph because it wasn’t worth the internet space to try and convince you. Why don’t you combine his save situations with his holds and you’ll start to get a better picture of how he performs (still not perfect though). Do you really think there is a big difference between pitching in the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings? All require you to record three outs. Some (Joe Blanton) would tell you the 1st inning of the game is the most difficult. They’re all the same.

  22. Drew

    August 17, 2010 12:16 PM

    I’m surprised that you care so much about saves. Aren’t sabermetric guys all about the leveraged innings and discounting the value of a save. I know you wrote the phrase “leverage inning” a lot in the article but you seem to be advocating for Madson to be the closer. I’d be fine with pitching Madson in the 8th or 9th, whichever has the better hitters scheduled to hit. You might mean that too, but it is unclear based on the article. Could you clarify?

  23. Bill Baer

    August 17, 2010 12:28 PM

    I want Madson to pitch the most important inning(s). It’s a judgment call, really, and LI isn’t always the way to go but generally speaking it is a good descriptor.

    If Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus are due up in the eighth inning with the score 3-2, then let Madson pitch the eighth. Then let Lidge face the bottom of the lineup in the ninth.

    As a general principle, Madson should pitch the 9th though. Given equivalent score and base-states, the ninth inning is more important than the eighth.

  24. JD

    August 17, 2010 01:45 PM

    Technically, all the innings are the same, but if you give up runs in the 1st, you have 8 more innings to catch up, but if you give up those same runs in the 9th, you’re in a lot more trouble.
    I don’t think that Madson would be incapable of pitching in the 9th, it just isn’t something that he’s comfortable with. If the season started with him as the closer, I think he would grow into the role.

  25. Steve Kusheloff

    August 17, 2010 01:59 PM

    Ryan Madson should never pitch in the 9th inning. Never. N E V E R. He certainly can’t hold a one or two run lead. The other night he almost blew a 4-run lead in the 9th against the Mets. He’s a great set-up man. He’s a terrible closer. Terrible.
    T E R R I B L E.

  26. Scott G

    August 17, 2010 02:28 PM

    JD,

    That’s a pretty strong statement to come right out and say that “it just isn’t something that he’s comfortable with.” Did he tell you this?

    Steve,

    He pitches successfully in the 9th inning a lot. Are you kidding me citing that game against the Mets the other night? “He almost blew a 4-run lead…”. He gave up 0 runs. He gave up two hits, worked ahead 0-2 to Martinez and then ran a fastball too far inside off the plate and hit him which loaded the bases with 2 outs! He ended the inning with 3 Ks. I was not worried for one second about the Phils chances of winning the game (something I can’t even say about Lidge when he comes in with a clean slate).

    He threw 1st pitch strikes to all 6 batters. He threw 2nd pitch strikes to 3 out of the 5 batters. He worked ahead of these batters. Usually when a player is shaky, he has control problems. Sorry, but I definitely think you’re wrong.

  27. CH Phan

    August 17, 2010 02:55 PM

    Closing seems to be SO MUCH inside the head of the pitcher, far more emotional than anyone wants to admit. I’m not certain how anyone could accurately gauge which pitcher to put on the mound against which team on what night. It’s a gamble. Madson was good the other night. Even when he appeared to be losing it he gathered himself and closed it out. In fact, he did it faster (and with one less base loaded) than Lidge was able to a few games prior. Lidge almost blew a 4 run lead (or was it a 5 run lead). I almost stroked out that game, and I’m a young person. Please don’t make me remember it. Lidge also had all of last yr to gather himself and he never quite did it. I think he’s become a completely untrustworthy closer. With the Giants games this week, 6 games with the Braves coming, and more Mets & Marlins games before the end of the season, we have to figure out something/someone truly solid to go with.

  28. bill

    August 17, 2010 03:39 PM

    I *know* Madson is the best reliever on the Phillies, bar none, but in all fairness, he deserves criticism. The dude broke his toe kicking a chair, that’s pretty stupid.

  29. Bill Baer

    August 17, 2010 03:43 PM

    He kicked a chair in anger, that’s stupid (but, as a human, understandable).

    Breaking his toe was random although a risk that should have been considered and avoided.

  30. CH Phan

    August 17, 2010 04:33 PM

    He didn’t beat his GF’s father and tear a ligament (or whatever) though. Heh heh.

    I won’t defend the chair kicking incident, though as Bill said, I think everyone can relate to being that angry with themselves. Luckily I live alone and nobody hears me yell or sees me throw something in my apt. So I go on acting as though it never happened. Unfortunately these guys live probably 50-60% of their lives under a microscope. Not fun or easy. I get it, they’re adults, they’re paid not to do this stuff, they should know better, and on and on. Nevertheless, they’re still human. And frankly being calm & allegedly collected hasn’t helped Lidge much.

  31. Darren

    August 17, 2010 04:45 PM

    Just ridiculous. Have you watch Madsen in the 9th. He blew as many as Lidge did in half the appearance in the so called prospering 2009. He is just as scary he puts runners on and he blows saves. If Lidge is gonna be replaced hopefully it isn’t by him. Right now there is no one on the staff to replace Lidge with. Madsen may be a closer but right now he can’t pitch in the 9th. Just this week against the Mets he came in, in a non save 4-0. He loaded the bases by giving up 2 hits and hitting a batter with 0-2 count. Yes he got out of the inning fortunately but the tying run was at the plate. GOD FORBID MADSEN CLOSES IN THE WORLD SERIES I WILL THROW UP

  32. kmart

    August 17, 2010 05:38 PM

    Darren, please run back to bleacher report. At the very least, have the decency to spell Madson’s name right.

  33. kmart

    August 17, 2010 08:26 PM

    Madson allowed a base runner on a strike-out/passed ball! He can’t pitch high leverage situations!

  34. Steven Neumersky

    August 17, 2010 10:01 PM

    All numbers aside (blasphemy), the biggest difference in Madson is abandoning the str8, poorly commanded, 96 MPH fastball when behind in the count and only spotting it high. Most of his failure, up until 3 weeks ago, was due to the lack of command in that pitch.

    Batters will no doubt adjust at some point, and it will be time to recalibrate again. No doubt that his DL stint gave him lots of time to re-evaluate his approach.

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