Mere months after providing a final flourish to a World Series victory and capping off a fantastic year for himself, Phillies closer Brad Lidge is enduring a miserable 2009 thus far.
After blowing saves on consecutive days at Yankee Stadium this past weekend, the rumblings and speculation about Lidge’s immediate future are spreading like wildfire.
But before everyone goes off the deep end, things have to be put into perspective. Phillies fans were so spoiled by Lidge’s perfection of a year ago that he is now held to a different standard.
Going into this season, the thought of him blowing a save seemed unimaginable. That kind of thing is reserved for the Jose Mesas and Jeff Brantleys of the world. And Billy Wagner.
But four blown saves later, Lidge’s bloated 9.15 ERA has now become great cause for concern. How could a man who went 41-for-41 during the 2008 regular season be so shaky this year?
First, while Lidge was very good in his first season as a Phil, he was quite fortunate to have gone the entire season without blowing an opportunity. He posted a sparkling 1.95 ERA, but fellow closers Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, and Joakim Soria all bettered him in that department while failing a combined ten times.
Lidge also sported a much higher WHIP than any of those three, as well as other closers like Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, and Trevor Hoffman.
Lidge’s season, while very good statistically, was quite the anomaly. On four different occasions where he entered games with a two-run lead, he surrendered a run before closing out the game.
But of the 19 times he came into a game with a one-run lead, he tossed a shutout frame every time. You can perhaps make the case that he bears down more with just a one-run lead, but shouldn’t he take the same approach every time he enters a game?
There were also six different times where he walked at least two batters in a save opportunity but still closed out the game successfully. And, he managed to allow just two home runs in 69.1 regular season innings after entering 2008 with a career ratio of one home run allowed every 10.2 innings.
All of these numbers point to Lidge being far from infallible, even after 2008. He simply had a career year thanks to his natural ability, a good defense behind him, and a few lucky bounces here and there.
Unfortunately, momentum does not carry from season to season. We all had to realize his streak would end at some point. When it finally did, there was almost a sense of relief. No more built up pressure. Lidge could go back to being dominant.
Instead, it hasn’t happened that way. He has been eminently hittable and lacking the kind of control we all know he possesses. Opponents also find it very easy to run on him, which forces Lidge to press for a strikeout, often with bad results for the Phillies.
One almost hopes that Lidge’s knee or some other physical malady is chiefly responsible for his struggles this season. There is simply no other explanation for how someone can go from dominant to pedestrian in such a short time frame.
Lidge himself will never use injury as an excuse, but the team may be forced to shut him down for a period of time in the very near future. Luckily, the Phillies have an ace up their sleeve as JC Romero will return from his 50-game suspension next week.
In the meantime, I suggest that Ryan Madson be given ninth inning duties right now. Lidge can either trade roles with him or be used in whatever capacity Charlie Manuel sees fit.
Once Romero returns, Lidge can then move back into the closer role and the Phillies will be able to work their bullpen like they did so successfully last year: with Romero being used in the seventh inning or situationally against lefthanders, then turning it over to Madson and Lidge.
If results do not improve in a week or two, and Lidge continues to falter, then he will need to be shelved so that he can work on his mechanics, rest his body, or whatever the case may be.
The Phillies would not have won the World Series without Lidge’s brilliance last season. And, they surely will not return to October glory unless he delivers a second act of almost equal greatness.