“Lights Out” or Lit Up? Which Brad Lidge Will Show Up For The Phillies In 2011?

December 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Fan News

Since his acquisition from the Houston Astros in 2008, Brad Lidge has been like a roller-coaster ride for the Phillies and their fans, and we’ve all just been along for the ride.

From the highs of his perfect season in 2008, to the lows of his league leading 11 blown saves in 2009, Lidge has become one of the most unpredictable closers in all of baseball, forcing fans to hold their breath as the ball leaves his hand.

Seeming to have rebounded in 2010, what can the Phillies expect out of Brad Lidge in 2011?

Being able to predict how Lidge will perform in the future is generated through understanding what made him so good, or so bad, in the past.

When the Phillies acquired Lidge from the Astros in 2008, they were expecting to get a dominant pitcher who desperately needed a change of scenery.

After years of mediocre to below average closers, the Phillies sent a couple of top prospects in Michael Bourn and Michael Costanzo, along with reliever Geoff Geary, to Houston for Lidge, and his impact was made immediately.

Over the first three months of the 2008 season, Lidge threw 32 innings as the Phillies’ new closer, posting an ERA of 0.85 and recording 19 out of 19 saves.

He hit his first rough patch in a Phillies uniform in July of ’08, where he allowed 8 earned runs in 15 innings, but thanks to an outstanding offense and a bit of luck, still managed to convert six out of six save opportunities.

Over the final two-plus months of the season, Lidge would make a bit of history for a historic Phillies team. He converted all 15 of his remaining save opportunities, with an ERA of 1.62.

Halfway through a season that saw Lidge convert a perfect 41 regular season save opportunities, then Phillies General Manager Pat Gillick rewarded his closer with a 3 year, $37.5 million contract, with a club option for 2012.

The gesture at the time was sound. After years of closers like Jose Mesa and Tom Gordon, the Phillies were locking up a man who was arguably considered the best closer in the National League.

The contract, signed in July 2008, had Philadelphians excited. Finally, a “lights out” closer in the ninth inning, and over the second half of the 2008 season, Lidge did not disappoint.

However, the following season would have Phillies fans and management alike second guessing their decision.

Lidge’s perfect 2008 season may have had a negative effect on him after all. After piling up 69.1 innings in 2008, he pitched through a sore arm for most of Spring Training in 2009, and questions of his health began to arise after a horrendous April that saw Lidge post an ERA above 7 in 8.2 innings of work.

After posting similar numbers in May, Lidge’s health concerns finally came to a head, when he missed most of June with injuries to both his right knee and pitching elbow.

Expected to bounce back after fully recovering from his injuries, Lidge disappointed. He would finish the 2009 season with 11 blown saves, the most of any pitcher in baseball, and barely clinging on to the role of closer, with set-up man Ryan Madson barking at his heels.

After posting 2009 totals of 0-8 with an ERA of 7.21, many fans were wondering if rewarding Lidge with a contract before his prior deal expired was a good idea. With one fantastic season and one horrendous season in tow, what did 2010 hold for Lidge?

Lidge’s 2010 campaign started like his 2009 season: filled with injuries. He went under the knife in January of 2010, having surgeries on both his pitching elbow and his right knee.

After missing the first month of the season, fans feared for the closer when he surrendered a home run to the first batter he faced in his return.

After struggling to find himself through the first half of the season, the dominant Lidge returned in August and September, where he tossed 24.2 innings of baseball to the tune of a 0.73 ERA.

He managed to turn in a decent season in 2010, going 1-1 with an ERA of 2.96 in 45.2 innings, collecting 27 saves along the way.

Uncovering what kind of season Lidge will have in 2011 is as simple as breaking down what makes him effective.

When the Phillies acquired Lidge from Houston, he was known as a two-pitch closer: a good fastball and a nasty slider. However, before his perfect season in 2008, Lidge added another pitch to his repertoire: a changeup.

These three pitches, over the course of the next three years, would determine in some way, shape, or form, what kind of season Lidge would have.

In 2008, Lidge’s most effective pitch was his slider, which he threw 50.7 percent of the time. What made this his most effective pitch was the number of ways that he was able to use it in different counts.

Able to control it to the maximum extent, he was able to paint both corners to get ahead in the count, or let the bottom fall out and make opposing batters look foolish.

Coming in at 85 mph with a sharp break, hitters had little time to react. Shrinking their reaction time even further was the fact that Lidge threw his second best pitch, a straight, 4-seam fastball, at 94 mph, 43 percent of the time, forcing hitters to “sit on” one of the two pitches: will he throw the sharp breaking slider, or the high cheese?

Realizing that hitters could predict one of his two pitches, Lidge added a third pitch to his arsenal. He threw his changeup a rare 5.4 percent of the time, keeping tough hitters off balance. At 84 mph, the straight chageup was a vast difference from his 94 mph fastball.

This allowed Lidge to become one of the most effective strikeout pitchers in baseball. In just 69.1 innings, Lidge struck out 92 batters, which translates to a K/9 of 11.94, among the league leaders for qualifying pitchers in 2008.

Never known for his control, he was also able to minimize the number of walks he allowed: 4.54 BB/9 in 2008. His greatest statistical advantage was that he gave up the home run on rare occasions (just twice in 2008) good for a HR/9 rate of 0.54.

He left an astounding 82.9 percent of runners on base, one of the most essential roles of the closer. This is what made Lidge so effective. He works backwards, according to most traditional baseball minds.

Instead of throwing his devastating slider off of his fastball, he throws his fastball off of his slider, mixing in an unpredictable changeup. Limiting walks and home runs, and piling up strikeouts is Lidge’s greatest asset. So, what went wrong in 2009?

In 2009, Lidge reduced the rate of his slider (47.2%), throwing it an almost equal amount of times as he threw his fastball (49.3%), and mixed in his changeup even less often than the year prior (2.2%).

Plagued by injuries for much of the year, many baseball minds, including Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee, believed that the increased use of Lidge’s fastball was his way of saying that he was uncomfortable with throwing his other pitches, an unfortunate side effect of elbow and knee troubles that forced him to the DL.

While averaging similar velocities on the speeds of both his slider and fastball, Lidge also showed a tendency to overthrow his changeup in 2009, increasing its average speed to about 85 mph.

Though it doesn’t seem like a major change, a decreasing disparity between the speeds of his fastball and changeup made a world of difference in the eyes of opposing batters.

Lidge’s 2009 struggles were very closely related with his control, or, lack there of it. His BB/9 increased from 4.54 in 2008 to 5.22 in 2009.

Pair that with a K/9 that decreased from 11.94 in 2008 to 9.36 in 2009, and the result that you get is that opposing batters are putting more of his pitches into play, evidenced by a ridiculous BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .369.

With those numbers fluctuating from years prior, it was important for Lidge to keep runners off base, and if they were to reach, to leave them there. However, his LOB% was way down from 2008 to a sad 62.8% in 2009.

Runners who reached base against Lidge weren’t often left there for long: he surrendered 11 home runs in his worst season as a closer.

In 2010, it appeared as though Lidge figured something out. Feeling good coming off of surgery, he returned a lot of confidence to his slider, using it more than ever (58.3%).

While nearly completely throwing his changeup by the wayside, he threw his fastball 38.6% of the time.

He made up for the lack of a changeup by slowing his slider down, now averaging about 83 mph, and throwing his fastball at an average 91 mph.

“Back to basics” was the 2010 theme for Brad Lidge, as he also saw a rise in his K/9 (10.25) and a decline in his BB/9 (4.73). 

While home runs were still a problem, he was able to decrease their damage against him, limiting his HR/9 to 0.99. He stranded 82 percent of runners left on base, and his astronomical 2009 BABIP came back down to .260.

So what can we expect out of Brad Lidge in 2011? “Lights out” or “Lit Up”?

The amount of Lidge’s success seems to be synonymous with how confident he is in throwing all three of his pitches.

While he’s shown over the course of his career that he can be successful while throwing just his fastball and slider, the presence of a changeup puts another thought in an opposing hitter’s mind.

The first thing that he will need to do is get back to pitching “backwards” in the count, for instance, throwing his slider in fastball counts, and his fastball when the hitter can expect a slider.

One promising note from Lidge’s 2010 season is that he realizes that his slider is his true bread and butter.

If he throws his slider 50-55 percent of the time, while mixing in his fastball and changeup, he will get back to being the strikeout pitcher that threw a perfect 2008 season.

Control is also going to be a major factor going forward. Lidge has shown in years past that he works much better with the bases empty.

Once a runner reaches first, Lidge’s slow delivery makes him very susceptible to stolen bases.

Keeping his home run totals down, and leaving runners on base were two of the things that Lidge did best in 2008, and will factor largely into his success, or failure, in 2011.

Bill James, who is a well recognized stat projection analyst, has little faith in Brad Lidge for the 2011 season. Used as a “best case scenario” by most baseball experts, James’ stat line for Lidge reads 4-3, with a 3.45 ERA and 30 saves.

However, if the last two months of Lidge’s 2010 season are an indication of anything, Phillies fans are in for a treat from a healthy, confident Brad Lidge in 2011.

Read more Philadelphia Phillies news on BleacherReport.com

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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