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The Phillies Closer Roundtable

And now for another post that I should have put up weeks ago…

It has probably been the most debatable question regarding the Phillies this season. “Who should be the closer?” Everyone has a different opinion, it seems, and each opinion has its own fair share of valid points. But who is right? (BTW, most of these e-mails were written around September 12, so take that into account, too. We might do another before the playoffs start next week.) Click to read a wide array of thoughts on the hot topic going to the playoffs, at least here in Philly.

To start off, we go to David Foley, from Phinally Philly, and @phillyfoley on the tweets:

Are you kidding me? Do I even HAVE to make this argument? The numbers practically make it for me.

As of right now, Brett Myers is the best choice to close out games for the Phillies. He has the perfect mentality for the gig, he went 21/24 in save opportunities for the Phils back in ’07, and has looked good coming back from his injury earlier this season. He loves the job, and seems made for late inning relief work.

Ryan Madson has been an abomination as the closer this season with only 6 saves in 11 opportunities, and a stretch in late June where he blew 3 saves in a 6 game span. Mad Dog is the eighth inning guy, not a closer. Period.

The only other other man I’d rather see at the tail end of the pen is Brad Lidge, but he has been so atrocious up to this point that it’s time to give someone else a chance. Let Lidge get his confidence back in the earlier innings, and if he puts 5 or 6 solid appearance together give him a chance to reclaim the role. Otherwise, the job should go to Brett Myers, and ONLY Brett Myers. I do believe I just CLOSED this argument. Ha. Ha.

Next, give it up for Allen Schatz! Allen is already the author of one awesome baseball book, with more to come in the next year or so. You can follow him @raschatz on Twitter.

Jose Mesa is the all-time leader in saves for the Phillies (112). Steve Bedrosian won a Cy Young. Mitch Williams was, well, wild. And Tug McGraw chased the demons away. Jose played but 4 years for the team. Bedrock? 4 as well. Wild Thing lasted but 3. In fact, outside of Tugger, no other player who dealt in the scary world of “get the last outs” stayed very long. Not Ricky or Billy, Al or Roger, Heathcliff or Teke. They were all gone in and like a Flash.

The job isn’t easy. “They” say it takes a certain type of psyche to succeed… hell, to even TRY. For fans around long enough, the names above will be familiar. So will their styles. All seemed to have the right stuff, that FU attitude to face the firing squad and say “Yeah, so? That all you got?” And for one magical season Brad Lidge was all those things and more, he was perfect. But such things do not last and the lights are out now, leaving the Phillies in search of the next gunslinger.

The town elder has handed Ryan Madson the badge. “Save our town” Charlie said. Madson has done what he can, surviving the last several raids on Phillies-ville. But something in his eyes says “I’m not too sure about this.” That’s not a good sign. The job calls for “FU!” not “FU?” – now is not the time for hesitation. Give the job to someone who doesn’t ask. Someone like… oh, I don’t know, someone who’s got good stuff in his arm and FU in his head (and at times, not much else). Hint: he’s got a cowboy name and redneck attitude.

Meet the new sheriff in town: Brett Myers.

Third on our “Closer-Critiquing Carousel” is Sara Scott. She is on Twitter as @sescott51. Keep in mind, she’s a “girl,” so her opinions may already be a little skewed. (Kidding!)

I’m gonna go with the underdog here and show my support for Ryan Michael Madson. Most of you are quick to point out his five blown saves. But he still has an ERA below seven, unlike Max’s beloved Lidge. A 3.19 ERA may not be stellar for a closer, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Lidge’s.

He certainly has the tools necassary to be a closer:

-A ridiculous fastball that hit 100 MPH on August 23 (I only remember cause that was my birthday, my cousin decided it was his gift to me. Eric Bruntlett also had an unassisted triple play that day. That made me sad.)

-A change-up that was swung on and missed more times (percentage wise) than any other pitch in baseball in 2008. Yes, that same change-up has been hit out of the park on a few occassions. But usually the batter is swinging before the ball even crosses the plate.

During Lidge’s time on the DL, Madson took over. And while his performance wasn’t mind-blowing, it was certainly admirable. If he has the right mindset, he can definitely be one of the best closers in the game. If his confidence is shaken and he doesn’t feel right going into the game (like the Pirates game) he’s likely to give up some runs. But he’s still a significiantly better option than Lidge for the time being. Once Myers gets one or two more chances to pitch in a low-pressure situation, I’m all for giving him and his snazzy red glove the ninth inning slot. Until then, Viva la Madson!

Last, but most certainly not least, we have Kieran Kelly, also from Phinally Philly. You can follow him on Twitter at @kierankelly, aptly.

The Phillies struggles against the Mets this weekend just reaffirmed the need for a closer by committee. They just don’t have one person who can get the job done at this point. Lidge has struggled, Madson has never been successful as a closer, and Myers hasn’t pitched that well since he’s come back.

The easiest thing to do is for Charlie Manuel to come out and declare that there is no one closer for this team. Just make it known and release the pressure off of all of them. Just let it be known that it could be a different person thrown out there on any given night. There are just too many people with end of game experience not to use. Lidge, Madson and Myers have all closed for the Phillies with success at some point. Jack Taschner has been a closer at the major league level in the past. J.C. Romero has that closer’s mentality, when he comes back he could be an option.

At this point, it just doesn’t make sense to drop all the pressure on one person. There are too many options out there in the Phillies’ bullpen to put them in defined roles and only use people in certain situations. Let them all close, then we can complain about them all. Why let Lidge have all the fun?

Finally, Paul from The Phrontiersman wrote a very interesting post on the topic, using  actual statistics to determine who has been the better reliever the past two years – Madson or Lidge.

It’s called: “Who’s the Better Reliever?”

It’s a simple game, really. We’ll take numbers from the past two seasons – 2008 and 2009 – as they relate to Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson. Then you, the loyal group of five readers who read this thing, can vouch for your favorite. It’s not fair to compare saves and holds – both of which are disgusting stats in their own right – as we’re dealing with relievers used in wholly different situations. Counting Ryan Madson’s eighth inning blown saves is one of the most blindsided things you can do. You can’t “save” games in the eighth inning, you can only “blow” them. It’s a lose-lose to count Ryan Madson’s save percentage when he is dealing with a different situation.

Plus, not counting blown saves actually gives Lidge a pass this time. He has as many blown saves this year – 10, nearly 11 – than Madson has in the last four seasons, since the beginning of ‘06. Still want to count blown saves?

Why only two seasons, you ask? Well, no one really cares about three-year-old performance. Do you care about 2007 Cliff Lee?

Anyway, shall we dance? All numbers can be cross-referenced with Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and TheHardballTimes.

ERA

Usually, this stat is pretty useless for a reliever. Someone who pitches one inning – rarely more, often less – per appearance should not be judged on a per nine inning basis. Everything gets skewed by one bad outing, and five good outings barely undo the damage.

That said, here are the cumulative ERAs for Lidge and Madson since the start of 2008.

Lidge: 4.14
Madson: 3.11

Madson 1, Lidge 0, but it’s a shaky 1 given the stat.

WHIP

WHIP is a marginally better stat for evaluating relievers. Walks plus hits per inning pitched give a bit of a better idea of what a reliever does in his appearances. The numbers, please!

Lidge: 1.46
Madson: 1.23

Madson 2, Lidge 0.

K:BB Ratio

Does a pitcher strike out more batters than he walks? He should. In fact, he should probably strike out about four times as many batters as he walks, if your name is Joe Nathan, or better if you’re Mariano Rivera. We can’t expect either of our guys to be that good, but I’m sure two-two and a half will do just fine. Behind door number one…

Lidge: 144 K to 66 BB, or 2.18 K:BB
Madson: 132 K to 43 BB, or 3.07 K:BB

Madson 3, Lidge 0.

K/9 and BB/9

Pretty good measures of control and stuff. Obviously, they’re not wholly independent, as balls and strikes rely on the umpires if there’s no swing. Usually, though, the margin of error added by umpires is negligible. The times when an umpire has an egregiously bad strike zone are far, far outweighed by the occurrences of a more “normal” strike zone. I think that’s something we can all agree on to an extent. Given that…

Lidge: 66 BB in 119.2 IP, good for a 4.96 BB/9
Madson: 43 BB in 147.2 IP, good for a 2.62 BB/9

Lidge: 144 K in 119.2 IP, good for a 10.83 K/9
Madson: 132 K in 147.2 IP, good for a 8.05 K/9

Madson 4, Lidge 1.

xFIP

As mentioned in a previous post, xFIP is a great stat for figuring out just what a pitcher’s ERA should be. ERA, as we all know, is a stat flawed for relievers not just because of use but also because of the rules regarding earned and unearned runs. It’s still better than, say, a pitcher’s record, but not absolute. xFIP is defined as “an experimental stat that adjusts FIP and “normalizes” the home run component. Research has shown that home runs allowed are pretty much a function of flyballs allowed and home park, so xFIP is based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly.” (Thanks again Hardball Times)

Basically, a pitcher’s home run component is removed from his ERA and rearranged to match what is average around the league. It’s not only good for seeing if a pitcher’s performance has been a fluke or unlucky – see: J.A. Happ for the former and Cole Hamels for the latter – as well as an indicator of future performance.

Lidge: 3.93 xFIP
Madson: 3.55 xFIP

It’s not a runaway here, but Madson 5, Lidge 1.

9th Inning Slash Stats

Let’s delve a little deeper. How does each of these guys perform in the ninth inning? A lot was made of Madson’s struggles while Lidge was on the DL a couple months back, mostly due to a tendency to give up HR late. But has he really been so bad in the ninth? Does he really not have the “mentality” or “what it takes” to close the door at the end of games?

Lidge: .238 opponent average, .331 on base percentage against, .388 opponent slugging
Madson: .231 opponent average, .276 on base percentage against, .394 opponent slugging

Madson 7, Lidge 2. It’s fair to note that Lidge was obviously better than Madson in all three facets in 2008. Alas, the disparity is so enormous in 2009 that Madson gets the edge in AVG and OBP, only losing slugging because he’s allowed four HR in 19 ninth inning appearances, while Lidge has, well, surrendered 11 in 54 ninth innings. Rate isn’t much different after all.

Wins Above Replacement

Now, we get to the meaty stuff. Long story short, this shows how many wins that, theoretically, a pitcher’s performance has been worth in relation to any Joe Schmoe you can call up from AAA and throw into your bullpen. A higher positive number is better. A WAR of 0 would indicate absolute league average, and no better than any other guy out there.

Lidge: 2.2 WAR in 2008, -1.0 in 2009, averaging out to 0.6 WAR
Madson: 1.3 WAR in 2008, 1.1 in 2009, averaging out to 1.2 WAR

Madson 8, Lidge 2. Again, it’s astonishing just how bad Lidge’s ‘09 has been, enough so that Madson has essentially been twice the reliever Lidge has been over the past two seasons.

Runs Above Replacement

Lidge: 21.7 RAR in 2008, -10.3 in 2009, averaging out to 5.7 RAR
Madson: 12.4 WAR in 2008, 10.9 in 2009, averaging out to 11.65 WAR

Madson 9, Lidge 2. WAR and RAR are cumulative throughout a season, so those ‘09 numbers will change before the end of the year, though not nearly enough to make up such an enormous gap. Also worth pointing out, as you can see from a difference in volume, one “win” is worth far more than one “run” as it pertains to these numbers.

Pitch Values

Yup, you bet: even individual pitches can be evaluated and graded on effectiveness. Here, we’ll use the two best pitches from each reliever: for Madson, fastball and changeup; for Lidge, fastball and slider.

Lidge’s Fastball: -2.8 in 2008, -13.6 in 2009, good for a cumulative -16.4
Madson’s Fastball: 3.7 in 2008, 4.9 in 2009, good for a cumulative 8.6

Lidge’s Slider: 17.1 in 2008, -0.4 in 2009, good for a cumulative 16.7
Madson’s Changeup: 6.2 in 2008, 6.3 in 2009, good for a cumulative 12.5

Madson 10, Lidge 3. However, Madson cumulatively has 21.1 runs of value in his best two pitches, while Lidge stands at just 0.3.

Now, no manager these days will take notice of these advanced metrics, much less Uncle Cholly. Do not, not even for a second, diminish the importance of these numbers. They are not arbitrary statistics cooked up to kill time and not meant to be tossed aside as some sort of gibberish when, in fact, they are more meaningful than your typical, casual fan stats.

Brad Lidge had an excellent season in 2008. He is having a masterfully terrible 2009. Ryan Madson has been consistently great over two seasons. Too much weight is put on a small sample in 2009 for Madson, and one that ended two and a half months ago, at that! Brad Lidge has been terrible for five months, and some still assert that he’s a better option than someone like Madson where, clearly, that’s not the case.

Contracts and loyalty be damned, I want to win ball games.

And a comment that I thought was particularly suitable here:

Well done. You turned on enough flood lights in this post that even the blindest (yes I’m calling you out, kierankelly) Lidge backer can see. There is no valid argument against either Madson or Meyers closing rather than Lidge. My frustration at this point is time is quickly slipping away for Cholly to establish one of these alternatives before the post season. A suggestion of ‘closer by committee’ for the rest of the season does not address the post season. A defined closer is an absolute must for any team in post season play.

While Madson does have all these stats working in his favor, that’s mainly because of how great he’s been in the 8th inning the past two seasons. There are no stats to measure “closer mentality” or to know if someone “has what it takes” to be a closer, and I don’t believe he does YET. Madson does have the potential to be a good, maybe even great, closer in baseball, I’ll admit that. But he still has a lot to learn. For example, he needs to know what pitches you can and cannot throw in certain situations. But you know who does have closer experience? Brad Lidge. And Brett Myers. Use them.

(Yes, I also wrote that a few weeks ago, and am way too tired to think of anything original.)

So, who do you think made the best argument? Who do you think is correct? Is there a difference? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.

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October 1, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Two things.

    1. I meant Tyler Walker, not Jack Taschner. Walker has closer experience, Taschner doesn’t.

    2. Paul, there are plenty of reasons for Madson or Myers not to closer over Lidge. Madson has struggled mightily every time the team has put him into the closer’s role. he can’t do it. As Einstein himself said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Myers has been hurt all season and has struggled in his last few outings.

    It really comes down to one of two outcomes. Either Lidge is the closer or they go by committee. There is no one else that can do it.

    Comment by Kieran Kelly | October 3, 2009 | Reply

  2. whoa. whoa. leave my gender out of this. we all now i’m a dude at heart.

    Comment by sescott51 | October 4, 2009 | Reply


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