Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Phillies should be fine without Lidge
By Jason Vida
For the third time in four seasons, Brad Lidge will start the season on the disabled list. The Phillies announced their closer will miss between three and six weeks with a strained right shoulder. While Lidge is just one of several key Phillies contributors with injury concerns at the start of the season, the damage from his DL stint- whether his absence is brief or extended - should be limited.
After a perfect 2008 (literally, he converted all 41 of his save opportunities), Lidge has been far from flawless over the last two seasons. Lidge has an MLB-high 16 blown saves since 2009 and his save percentage of 78.4 over that span is the lowest for any pitcher with at least 50 save opportunities.
Even with a less-than-reliable closer, the Phillies have been the best team in the National League over the last two seasons, winning an NL-best 190 games (10 more than the second-place Giants). Philadelphia’s potent lineup often allows pitchers a greater margin of error. In six of Lidge’s 16 blown saves since 2009, the Phillies have gone on to win the game. Only Leo Nunez has had more blown saves (seven) in which team has won over that span.
Charlie Manuel said that Jose Contreras would likely start the season as the team’s closer, but setup man Ryan Madson could also see time in that role. Manuel might want to re-think having a closer by committee and instead give the job to Contreras on a full-time basis.
Contreras converted four of his five save opportunities in 2010 and was more effective in save situations than in other relief opportunities. In 18 save situations, Contreras had a 3.21 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .637. In non-save situations, he had a 3.38 ERA and an opponents' OPS of .720.
While Contreras thrived in the closer’s role in 2010, Madson struggled. We mentioned above that Lidge has the lowest save percentage in the majors since 2009 among pitchers with at least 50 save opportunities. When you consider all pitchers with 25 or more save opportunities, that dubious honor now belongs to Madson, who has 15 saves in 26 opportunities (57.7%) over the last two seasons.
If Lidge’s injury turns out to be more serious than anticipated, you don’t have to search hard to find a team that was able to overcome an injury to its All-Star closer in spring training. Minnesota Twins reliever Jon Rauch stepped into Joe Nathan’s rather large shoes after the latter was lost for the season with an elbow injury last March. Rauch saved 20 games prior to the All-Star Break before yielding to midseason acquisition Matt Capps, who was equally effective as the Twins won the AL Central for a second straight season.