Lidge Out 3-6 Weeks; Contreras Named Closer

A couple important pieces of news came out today regarding the fates of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Jose Contreras.

Via Todd Zolecki’s Twitter:

More from the ballpark: Lidge expected to miss 3 to 6 weeks.

Via Matt Gelb’s Twitter:

Not at the ballpark but colleague Ray Parrillo passes this along: Charlie says Contreras would be his closer right now.

And:

Lidge diagnosed with “posterior rotator cuff strain.” Billy Wagner had same injury with Phillies in 2004. Missed 44 days.

Obviously, I would have preferred to have seen Madson given the closer’s role, but it’s not a big deal. Yeah, ninth innings are typically higher-leverage than eighth innings, but if you recall my post on Madson from March 2:

The reality is that Madson, in the eighth, tends to face the heavy-hitters. In 2010, the opposing 3-6 hitters in the batting order accounted for 48 percent of all batters faced by Madson while the bottom of the order accounted for 25 percent. Lidge faced the 3-6 hitters 39 percent of the time and the 7-9 hitters 36 percent.

Additionally, the move may have financial implications. Madson becomes a free agent after the season. Closers make significantly more money than other relievers due to the perceived significance of the inning in which they pitch. Matt Thornton is arguably one of the ten best relievers in baseball, but since he wasn’t a closer, he could only manage a two-year, $12 million extension with the Chicago White Sox last year. Lidge signed a three-year contract extension in July 2008 worth $37.5 million. Closers make bank; set-up guys do not, unless your name is Rafael Soriano and you play for the New York Yankees.

By intentionally deflating Madson’s save opportunities, the Phillies effectively remove some of his leverage at the negotiating table, making him cheaper to retain. That is a good thing, generally speaking.

However, this move can have an adverse effect as well. Madson has gone on record saying he would like to both close and finish his career with the Phillies. If they are unwilling to give him the opportunity to close in 2011, he may be skeptical that he will ever get the opportunity and take his services elsewhere after the season.

Those are longer-term worries, though. Contreras is not chopped liver by any means. Pitching mostly in the seventh inning last year, Contreras averaged better than a strikeout per inning while issuing few walks. He allowed only five home runs in over 56 innings as his 94+ MPH fastball and 88 MPH slider effectively kept hitters off balance for most of the season.

Contreras can thrive in the closer’s role while Madson continues to pitch where he has been most comfortable in the eighth inning. Fantasy baseball players may be pulling their hair out, but this recent turn of events is rather insignificant.

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18 comments

  1. Jim

    March 29, 2011 07:04 PM

    One side of me loves this move since it leaves Madson as the setup man, where he has been dominant. Another side of me hates it because it seems like a move purely to keep his free agency value down instead of doing what is best for the team.

    This also tells me that the Phillies have every intention of trying to resign him in the offseason, which I really hope happens.

  2. Nik

    March 29, 2011 07:41 PM

    Looks like the partial tear story is making its rounds now. A strain is really a small tear anyway; its semantics.

  3. Ken

    March 29, 2011 07:57 PM

    I don’t see any way this is a move to effect value in free agency. This is no dress rehersal, it’s about winning the division en route to a World Series win. Telling quotes in articles by David Hale in the Wilmington (DE) News Journal this past weekend flat out question RM’s ability to close in the views of RAJ and Rich Dubee. The Phils may want to keep him, but it’s hard to believe that Madson doesn’t see this as a face slap. He may choose to try to ignore it as such and focus on his job, but how he can look at this directly, and view it positively makes no sense. Madson’s inability to show closing skills to this point is well documented. All the data in the world and claims of a small sampling don’t change the facts. Whether he can close effectively is very likely a different matter, but that’s speculative. Chances are real good that some club speculates positively on that, and comes up with closer money, and if it’s Washington, which closes by comittee for now, it could well be especially big money.
    I’d say there’s a very good chance that withy a new club next year, Ryan Madson reflects, and cites this decision as a key in his having moved on.

  4. Richard

    March 29, 2011 08:07 PM

    “All the data in the world and claims of a small sampling don’t change the facts.”

    Ha ha. Data and small samples are the facts.

  5. Bender

    March 29, 2011 08:14 PM

    Sporting News is backing off the tear/out half-season angle.

  6. Jon

    March 29, 2011 10:57 PM

    I’m not all that concerned with the loss of Lidge

  7. Moose

    March 29, 2011 11:17 PM

    Granted Madson will still dominate in the 8th inning this year, but I feel the Phillies brass just horribly fails on evaluations quite often.

  8. Scott G

    March 30, 2011 06:22 AM

    Bill,

    Is your opinion that the Phillies are honestly trying to control his cost, or do you think they just don’t understand how good he is/question his mentality as a “closer”?

  9. Nik

    March 30, 2011 09:09 AM

    I think Madson the closer could get 3/25. Madson the setup guy probably is looking at 3/18.

  10. Scott G

    March 30, 2011 09:50 AM

    So you think they are so savvy that they know using him in the 8th won’t hurt the team? Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t think based on other decisions that Manuel or the FO has a clue about these things.

  11. Moose

    March 30, 2011 11:30 AM

    I agree with Scott G here. The Phillies have shown at least a mild propensity to make incorrect/ill-advised decisions. If they think they’ll be able to get Madson at a discount if they don’t let him close, why not sign him to an extension now and then make him your closer. That way they have the player in the position he wants at the price the team wants. I’m sorry but I just can’t buy into that the Phillies are trying to keep his cost down, at least not intentionally. It may just be a side effect of their poor judgement.

  12. Scott G

    March 30, 2011 02:29 PM

    1 year of closing + 3 years of being as dominant or more dominant than Lidge had ever been, probably.

  13. hunterfan

    March 30, 2011 08:17 PM

    This move makes sense if you figure the typical closer gets less innings than the typical set-up man. Contreras seemed to hit a wall last year as he was used frequently and his innings went up.

    It seems to me that if Charlie is going to lean as heavily on the set-up guy as he did on Madson last year, I’d rather have Madson pitching the extra innings than Contreras.

  14. paulma2zak

    March 31, 2011 09:43 AM

    I listened to sports talk radio (610) for the first time in a long time last night and got a good laugh I thought I’d share. Don’t know the full quote because I had to turn it off mid sentence to make sure something I found comical didn’t eventually annoy me once the callers came on.

    “Thank God. THANK GOD. The Phillies have finally figured out that Ryan Madson can’t close ballgames. He’s a great 8th inning/set-up man, but he doesn’t have the stuff to be a closer. Kudos to Charlie Manual on this decision. Rya…”

    @hunterfan – I agree that using Madson as the “set-up guy” can be more beneficial to the team. It will be even more beneficial if Manual uses him against the opposing teams better hitters, whether that be the 7th or 8th inning.

  15. Ed R.

    April 01, 2011 03:17 AM

    “By intentionally deflating Madson’s save opportunities, the Phillies effectively remove some of his leverage at the negotiating table, making him cheaper to retain. That is a good thing, generally speaking.”

    Wow, this is a real jaw-dropper. Sure, I’m not surprised that the Phils, or any other employer, would like to pull this off, but if I were Madson and my employer was attempting to deny me the job I wanted and screw me on salary at the same time I’d be off at the first opportunity.

    If this is really management’s reasoning then I think we can kiss Madson goodbye. If he can get more money and the opportunity to close elsewhere he’d be crazy to stay here. The Phils need him more than the needs the Phils. Let’s see how much fun it is after the season when he leaves as a free agent and the Phils have to figure out how to replace him.

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