The Lidge to Nowhere
Brad Lidge has been bad in 2009historically, consistently, spectacularly bad.
Even so, a big problem could become a crippling one if the Phillies handle it the wrong way. The ugly truth is that although Lidge has hurt the Phillies dearly this season, every replacement seriously being talked about would make matters far worse.
The first candidate to take Lidge's job: Brett Myers.
Besides the fact that he missed his rehab start Saturday after he injured his eye in what may or may not have been a bar fight, Myers is a terrible replacement for Lidge. His only closing experience came back in 2007, and he was only barely adequate.
For Phillies fans who don’t remember, he looked a lot more like Wayne Gomes than Tug McGraw. He finished the season with a 2.87 ERA in relief work, but a closer look at his work in August and September tells a different story.
In those two months, during which the Phillies staged one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, Myers blew two saves and amassed a whopping five losses.
Now, after he has spent more than half the season on the disabled list, a still not 100-percent Myers will probably be asked by the Phillies to step in and close right away for a first-place team playing in the pressure cooker that is Philadelphia.
It isn’t an enviable position to be in by any stretch of the imagination.
Scott Eyre is a reliever whose stock went up after he got the first two outs in the ninth inning of the Phillies' 4-1 win Sunday night.
Eyre’s 1.71 ERA this season has been superb, but at the end of the day, he is still just a lefty specialist.
It’s easy to get outs when you only have to face one or two batters at a time.
If Eyre were to close, nothing would stop teams from sending up three straight right-handed hitters every ninth inning. Now that the rosters have expanded, this is an even more likely scenario.
Eyre would get shelled every other night and the Phillies would be right back where they started, only without one of the better lefty specialists in baseball.
Chan Ho Park is another reliever like Eyre, whose current success would not translate to the ninth inning.
His glory days ended back in 2001. Since then, he has been nothing short of horrendous until he came back to the Dodgers last year.
When he started 2009 with Philly, he promptly went back to his losing ways, posting a 7.29 ERA through seven starts. It seemed that Park was doomed to be one of the bigger busts of the 2008-09 offseason.
That is, until the Phillies turned him into a long-man. With a 2.57 ERA and .231 BAA in relief appearances this year, Park has discovered an invaluable niche for himself in the Phillies' bullpen.
If Park is made into a closer, there is a very good chance he will lose the confidence that he has built back up over the past several months.
Not every pitcher has the mentality necessary to close. With only two career saves, there is nothing that indicates Park would be psychologically ready for the strain that comes with closing baseball games.
For another reason why making Park a closer is a bad idea, look no further than Ryan Madson’s short stint closing earlier this season.
Lidge had gotten off to a terrible start, and Philly management put him on the 15-day DL even though he wasn’t genuinely hurt. That way, they could try out Madson in the closing role without openly disrespecting Lidge.
The move failed in both regards.
Even before the paperwork was filled out, Lidge saw right through the obvious ploy and voiced his anger to the press. Then, Madson started blowing saves.
During the month of June, he blew three saves in six chances, a percentage far worse than Lidge’s. By the time July rolled around, Lidge was back as Philly’s closer, but the damage had been done.
Despite being back in a less stressful role, Madson had lost his edge. He followed up his terrible June with an even worse July, during which he put up an appalling 5.11 ERA.
Since then, he has shaken off his closing hangover and held opponents scoreless, but the lesson remains clear. If Madson is used to close, even for a little while, it could potentially have long-term consequences for his future as a pitcher in any role.
Two lesser known pitchers, Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin, have also been considered as possible replacements for Lidge.
Durbin does have three saves this season, but his 4.41 ERA and 1.51 WHIP scream mediocrity.
Condrey has gotten a handful of save opportunities over the years for the Phillies, but the latest report has him coming off the DL on September 1 at the earliest.
Condrey has proven himself as a reliable reliever throughout his career in Philadelphia, but if the Phils do make a change, September 1 would be far too late.
Waiting until the final full month of the regular season to make a decision as big as replacing Lidge would hurt team morale and show vulnerability to the Braves and Marlins.
The waiver wire isn’t a viable option, either.
Sure, the Phils could grab a Chad Qualls, but how much would he really help? Even if he does clear waivers, he isn’t enough of an upgrade over the current situation anyway.
Players who could have an impact like Jason Frasor and Heath Bell almost certainly wouldn’t clear waivers. If the Phillies were going to make a run at Frasor or Bell, then they should have done it before the July 31 deadline.
Besides, the Philadelphia front office already spent a lot of money to get Cliff Lee, so it’s unlikely that they would be willing to open the checkbooks again this season.
Though they may not be able to make any more meaningful pick-ups at this point, a player the Phillies acquired over a month ago could end up being their savior.
Pedro Martinez, as it turns out, is the perfect player to replace Lidge.
His only experience in relief may have been early in his career, but Martinez said he was open to closing when the Cardinals floated the idea back in March.
At this point, a move to closer would help Pedro just as much as it would help the Phillies. He still has a live fastball and great command over a variety of pitches.
Although he doesn‘t have much closing experience, he has more big game experience than the rest of the Phillies pitching staff combined. He also wouldn’t have to log as many innings as he would if he were starting, so his arm would stay stronger.
Moving Pedro to the bullpen would open up room in the rotation for Jamie Moyer. The Phillies would be able to kill two birds with one stone by filling the need they have at closer and appeasing team leader Jamie Moyer.
If Charlie Manuel truly wants to save the Phillies' season, he is going to have to think outside the box on this one.
What’s being looked at right now would not only make the Phillies worse, it would almost certainly result in a bullpen implosion.
In 2008, the Phillies' relief pitching was best in the National League and second best in all of baseball. One year later, those ranks have dropped to seventh and 13th, respectively.
Pedro would surely help, but Philly management hasn’t said or done anything to suggest that moving Martinez to the bullpen is even on the radar.
The only other realistic alternative at this point is to sit tight with Lidge. It isn’t a particularly appealing scenario, but at this point, continuing to roll the dice with Lidge is the only thing Philadelphia can do.
Before Philly can win another championship, the city’s troubled closer will have to conquer his demons once and for all.
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