Brad Lidge, Velocity and Trevor Hoffman

Brad Lidge didn’t top 90 on the radar gun Monday.

Sure, yesterday was a big first step for the 34-year-old reliever. The first appearance of the year — especially when it happens this late in a season — is an important moment for any pitcher who’s recovered from an injury. But, if the muted radar-gun readings are to believed, the outing was perhaps just one point on the long highway back to full strength — at best. At worst, he might find that his new fastball velocity will limit him to the side roads of success. That is, unless he can be legendary with his slider.

Lidge’s velocity was in line with what the Phillies saw during his eight-appearance rehab stint this summer. The 89.7 MPH that he averaged against the Padres would be two miles per hour slower than he showed last year and five miles per hour slower than his career average.

Jeff Zimmerman showed us in his excellent piece about the reliability of fastball velocities that even after one game, we can say that Lidge’s fastball is 68% likely to be within .8 MPH of its observed speed going forward, and 95% likely to be within 1.6 MPH. Since Lidge showed a two mph drop in his first game, there’s little doubt that he’ll be throwing with less gas this year.

Mike Fast famously found that pitchers gain about .25 runs allowed when dropping one mile per hour on the gun, at least until they hit 89 MPH. With a 3.87 FIP (96 FIP-) last year, even a modest prediction — say, that he gains a little velocity back and only loses one mile per hour when compared to last year — would have Lidge pitching on the wrong side of league average this year. Life in the slow lane is not as exciting.

But is it really a big deal? Point out Lidge’s reduced fastball and the names Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux and maybe even Shaun Marcum come to mind.

And don’t forget that there’s one name that’s perhaps more germane to this discussion: Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman had plenty of success with an 85-plus mph fastball — and he did it with a top-shelf changeup. Lidge’s slider is considered his best pitch. So could it keep Lidge afloat?

Defining a pitch and its dominance is difficult. Hoffman had a changeup worth 40.2 linear weights runs since 2002. Lidge’s slider has been worth 90.9 runs over the same time period. But linear weights utility can be limited because the interactivity between pitches is so important. Hoffman got a 17.8% whiff rate on his changeup in 2009 and 2010. Lidge, in the same time period, got a 20.6% whiff rate on his slider. Hoffman’s changeup had three more inches of vertical and horizontal movement than average. Lidge’s slider moves about two inches more — horizontally — than an average slider.

We don’t hear about Lidge’s slider as much as Hoffman’s changeup, but it could be in a similar class. He’s actually used it more than his fastball in his career, so maybe he’s more suited than most to dealing with a loss in velocity. Relievers can dominate with one great pitch, and Lidge was throwing his fastball around 91 mph down the stretch last year. And he was filthy.

Now that he’s humping along around 89 mph, is it possible that he’s in for a high-speed exit from the league? Maybe. But if he sticks around, perhaps we’ll have to consider his slider among the pantheon of great pitches.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


32 Responses to “Brad Lidge, Velocity and Trevor Hoffman”

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  1. Bay Slugga says:

    I did not realize that linear weights on pitches only looks at pitches that end an AB with that pitch. What is the thought process for developing a statistic like that?

    Why limit the sample size for evaluating a pitch to a small sample of pitches that end ABs?

    Please explain this?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      It’s the way linear weights are constructed. The only way to measure linear weights is in base/run states. So, singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, that sort of thing. Linear weights were put together to create wRC+ and wOBA – how valuable is a double versus a walk, in other words.

      But for pitches, strike/ball is not part of the equation. only strikeouts and walks and at-bat ending results. In other words, from the perspective of linear weights, nothing is changed if the pitch doesn’t factor on the base/out level. So it’s not just about a pitch ending an at-bat, it’s about a pitch registering a single, double, walk, strikeout…

      It could be refined, but it’s still interesting.

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    • eric_con says:

      I think there is not much choice here. If Lidge throws a fastball for a ball on pitch one and a slider for a ground out on pitch two, is the fastball in any way responsible for an out?

      It’s hard to say, in this case no but maybe in other cases yes? I think it just is more reliable to focus on the final pitch of ABs.

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  2. Dave says:

    Lidge only threw 2(!) fastballs. I don’t know if you should be so quick to make conclusions off of such a small sample size. The study you cited by Jeff Zimmerman is for starters, who are going to throughmore than two fastballs in a game. If a starter only throws 80 pitches and half of them are fastballs that’s still 40 data points. Plus the article states the data really stabilizes after three starts.
    Once Lidge throws the equivalent of three starts worth of fastballs (or even just one start worth, lets say 40 fastballs) you can rewrite this article. It might still be the same, but it’s way to early to tell.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Not sure about that. The r value on ONE pitch is .5 and the velocity he showed in the game was consistent with the velocity he showed in the minor leagues. I don’t think more gas is coming.

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      • joshcohen says:

        “I don’t think more gas is coming.”

        You want to use 2 FB to declare his veloctiy, fine. But, both of those FBs were harder than what he was throwing in the minors. Adrenaline? Maybe. But that still represents a 2-3 mph gain over what he was hitting last week (according to the blurbs that I had been reading on yahoo).

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      • Josh L says:

        @joshcohen He was throwing 89-90 in his rehab assignments, so it is pretty much on par with that.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Yeah, I’ve been following on RotoWorld, and they have gun readings that say 89-90 the whole way.

        http://www.rotoworld.com/recent/mlb/3452/brad-lidge

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      • joshcohen says:

        fair enough. i did a yahoo search and found very little on his V in lakewood (found two articles that said he didn’t hit 90 in reading) but obviously missed the rotoworld one–thanks for posting that!

        i don’t mean to be a dick bringing this up, of course. the point of the article is that 1 mph can make a significant difference.

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      • BS says:

        Ya, and there would be no way for a reading to be off by 1 mph at a minor league game either.

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      • Dave says:

        Maybe not. But it wouldn’t be totally crazy if he ended up around 90.5.

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  3. Jamie says:

    keep in mind this is still his spring training. he’s had ~6 appearances. i’d wait for judgement on fastball velocity till at least the end of august.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      He’s also been throwing less than 91 since the end of July last year. I don’t think we have to wait a full year.

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      • Jamie says:

        i don’t think he’s going to get past 91. He was qouted as saying that he’s stopped trying to throw hard and work on location more. Part of the reason for his success in the second half last year was less MPH and more location.

        i’d expect to top out at 92 and live in the 89/90 range

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      • DD says:

        Good point Jamie. The pitchers mentioned with a lack of velocity in the article are all control pitchers, which Lidge is definitely not. I can say that confidently based on the dozens of games I’ve seen him pitch since he came to Philly. He actually locates his slider better (when trying to throw it for strike as well as to induce swings outside the zone) and uses it to get in a groove so he can pepper in the fastball. Would be interesting to see Pitch F/X data on his fastball location since coming to Philly.

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  4. Cliff Lee's Changeup says:

    Well Rivera has got it done with declining speed, and I’d put Lidge in the great closers catergory, and to be great they, guys like Hoffman and Rivera, have learned how to get it done with declining fastball speeds. Lidge should be able to handle this in my opinion. Sitting at 90 with a pitch with killer movement has and will work, as long as the pitcher can locate the 90mph fastball.

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  5. Tim L says:

    As someone whose followed Lidge as a Phillies fan over the last few years, the biggest thing that hurt him was his lack of COMMAND on his fastball. He was getting behind hitters, and therefore didn’t have favorable counts to allow for the slider.

    In 2009, when he struggled, his BB/9 was at a career high.

    During the first half of 2010, his ERA topped 5.00 and his BB/9 rate was a horrid 6. After July 31, his BB/9 dropped to 3.75, and his ERA was just 0.73 during that stretch.

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  6. JohnnyComeLately says:

    Hoffman succeeded with a slower fastball because there was still a large gap between that and his changeup speed. What’s the gap between Lidge’s fastball and slider? I think that’s a better indication of whether he’ll be effective with reduced velocity.

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    • DD says:

      From what I remember, his slider was low 80’s last year, around 82-83, fastball (as stated here) around 91. That’s a sufficient gap.

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  7. JP says:

    Lidge’s slider in his heyday was unfair to opposing batters. 157 strikeouts in 2004, at a rate of 14.9 per nine innings.

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  8. MG says:

    Lidge throws three variations of his slider though:

    – Slider in the dirt which really makes Ruiz work.
    – Slider at the knees
    – Back-door slider he throws especially vs. right-handed hitters

    If he can throw that slider at the knees with a decent degree of consistency for strikes like he did last year, I like his chance to succeed again avoiding too many counts where he has to go with a fastball.

    I can think of another reliever though who used his slider though to set up his fastball? Anybody?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Luke Gregerson? Sergio Romo?

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    • Bill says:

      “Back-door slider he throws especially vs. right-handed hitters”

      How does a RHP throw a back-door breaking ball to a RHH?

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      • Lee says:

        I could have sworn the only way to throw a backdoor pitch is for the batter and pitcher to be same handed, i.e. a left-handed pitcher can only throw a backdoor slider to a left-handed batter. I think this is due to the fact that the break causes the pitch to look as if it is coming in on the batter and then breaks into the zone.

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      • Jimmy the Greek says:

        No, that’s a regular breaking ball.

        A back-door slider (or curve) is one against the opposite-handed hitter. It starts outside the zone, and just crosses into the zone at the last minute. It thus enters through the “back door”–the outside part of the zone away from the hitter.

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      • Misfit says:

        A breaking ball from a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed batter that appears to start at the batter’s hip and then break over the inside part of the zone is often called a “Back-up slider.” I’ve heard some analysts call it a “Front-door” breaking ball as well.

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      • DD says:

        I agree with misfit. sliders and curves can be back door only to opposite handed guys, while a 2 seamer or some other pitch which tails the opposite direction is used on the outside corner by same handed pitchers.

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  9. Kyle says:

    I’m betting that he’ll eventually have a fastball that sits somewhere in between 91 and 93 mph, but it’s been a long time since his fastball was his best pitch. I don’t think I’ve seen him hit 96 or 97 mph in four years, and hit 100 mph more than a few times in a season since 2006. But knowing that he’s been a head case for a long time going from utter dominance to one of the most hittable pitchers with filthy stuff… I wouldn’t bet for or against him. I do think he needs to be able to top 90 mph for that slider to be as sick as it has been. With so many variations of his slider if he can locate his fastball for a strike instead of repeatedly miss with it, he can still be a solid closer.

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