Philadelphia Phillies: 8 Reasons Ryan Madson Will Close After Brad Lidge Returns
For at least the time being, Ryan Madson appears to be Charlie Manuel's choice as the closer of the Philadelphia Phillies.
The third save was picked up by Antonio Bastardo on what would have been Madson's third consecutive day of work.
Madson's ascension to the closer role has always seemed inevitable. The 6'6" righty has never found a real niche in the Phillies staff since his true rookie year in 2004.
He's been used in every role, from setup to long man to starting pitcher (17 starts in 2006). But Madson hasn't ever been given an extended shake in the ninth inning.
With Brad Lidge expected back from the disabled list soon from his partially torn rotator cuff, the time for Madson to capitalize is right now.
What follows is a list of eight reasons why Madson will fend off Lidge (and Jose Contreras) and remain the Phillies closer moving forward.
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com.
1. He's a Power Pitcher
Over the course of his career (580.1 innings in 440 games), Ryan Madson owns a 7.72 strikeout per nine inning rate (K/9).
Since being converted to a reliever full time in 2007, his strikeout rate has gone up every season: from 6.91 in 2007, to 7.29 in 2008, 9.08 in 2009 and 10.87 in 2010.
Among qualified relievers last season, Madson had the 14th-highest strikeout rate. He's sustained the increase thus far with 13 Ks in 11 innings this season.
Managers always say that they want to have power arms in the ninth inning.
There's no argument to be made that Madson doesn't strikeout enough hitters. He's among the elite.
2. He Has Good Control
Like his K/9 rate, Madson's strikeout to walk (K/BB) ratio has increased every year since 2007 as well.
General managers typically look for relief pitchers who own at least a 2:1 ratio. For elite closers, the ratio should be above 3.5:1.
Madson's strikeout to walk ratio has increased as follows: 1.87 in 2007, 2.91 in 2008, 3.55 in 2009 and 4.92 in 2010. His 2010 mark placed him ninth among qualified relievers.
But the improvement is not due to just an increase in strikeout rate. Madson has trimmed his walk rate from 3.7 batters per nine innings in 2007 to 2.5 in 2008-2009 and just 2.21 last season.
Madson already had impeccable control, but he has continued to fine-tune his abilities.
3. He Keeps the Ball on the Ground
Even if he weren't an extreme ground-ball pitcher, Ryan Madson would be an elite major league reliever because of his ability to strike batters out and avoid walks.
But in two of the last three seasons, Madson's ground-ball rate has been over 50 percent. His career mark is 47.7 percent.
Since ground balls do the least amount of damage out of the three batted-ball types (fly balls, liners, grounders), ground-ball pitchers tend to get out of trouble because of the double-play.
As a result, they have lower ERAs and expected ERAs. Among qualified relievers, Madson finished 13th in expected fielding independent pitching in 2009, with a 2.62 projected ERA (actual: 2.55).
4. And in the Park
As a result of being a ground-ball pitcher, Madson is able to avoid home runs.
The major league average for pitchers is right around one home run per nine innings (1.0 HR/9).
Since 2007, Madson has allowed 22 home runs over 223 innings, good for a .88 HR/9 rate. This indicates that he may have a slight ability towards keeping the ball in the park.
Even though the difference may be only one or two home runs over the course of a season, one or two games (and saves instead of blown saves) could go a long way towards a team making the playoffs and a closer keeping his job.
5. He Throws Three Above-Average Pitches
During the past three seasons, Madson has slowly fazed out a mediocre curveball in favor of a much more effective cutter.
The switch has given Madson a third effective, above-average pitch.
His fastball usually sits between 93-95 mph and is thrown about 55-60 percent of the time. The cutter sits between 88-90 mph and was thrown a career high 18.1 percent of the time last season.
Madson's best pitch, however, is his changeup, an offering that he's been crafting since his earliest days of little league. The change comes in between 83-85 mph, giving Madson a perfect 8-10 mph split from his fastball.
The pitch is thrown about 25-30 percent of the time and also serves as Madson's primary strikeout pitch.
The result is three above average major league offerings.
Closers typically have a major grasp of only one or two pitches. With three offerings at his disposal, Ryan Madson has an extra weapon with which to attack hitters.
6. Brad Lidge Only Throws One, and His Velocity Is Declining
Lidge has one of the best sliders in all of baseball. You need to if you're going to throw it 60.2 percent of the time as he did in 2010.
Even still, the pitch was worth 15.3 runs above average for the season. His fastball, however, hasn't generated a positive return since 2007. And before that, 2004.
If Lidge comes back and his slider isn't sharp, there's no way that he'll get a grasp on the closer role. Without his slider, he is a worthless pitcher.
Lidge no longer throws in the mid-to-upper-90s as he used to with the Astros, or even as he did when first arriving in Philadelphia.
He lost about two miles per hour off of both his fastball and slider last season, but still managed to have a successful year.
When you only throw two pitches, however, losing speed on them is a big deal.
7. Tears Don't Ususally Heal Themselves
Part of the explanation for Lidge's loss of velocity could be the tear in his rotator cuff that has caused him to miss the start of this season.
Both Lidge and his doctors now say he is healthy as he nears the start of a rehab assignment, but I'm skeptical
Torn rotator cuffs don't usually heal on their own. With more time, it's certainly possible, but not this quickly.
Once Lidge starts whipping 83 mph sliders around again, I expect the injury to become re-aggravated at some point. Once the shoulder flares up, it will be impossible for Lidge to maximize his velocity.
I could very well see the injury re-surfacing, forcing the Phillies to shut down Lidge for the season.
8. Madson Makes More Sense Financially
Ryan Madson is 30 years old. Brad Lidge is 34.
Madson's $4.5 million contract could come off the books at the end of the year.
Lidge's $11.5 million salary could as well, though the team does hold a $12.5 million club option on him for 2012.
It's unlikely that the Phillies would front that money to an injury-prone pitcher, however. They're more likely to pay the $1.5 million buyout.
Madson is likely to be re-signed either way. Since he's been there for nine seasons, he'd probably take a discount to stay with the Phillies if it'd be as the first-choice closer.
The Phillies could re-invest the Lidge money into two other relievers to work as setup men.
Three good relievers are better than two. Committing to Madson for the future could improve the Phillies as a team overall by affording them better payroll flexibility.
Otherwise, he should also close merely because the numbers show that he's the best reliever on the team.