The offseason may have brought lofty expectations upon the Philadelphia Phillies, but recent preseason injuries have put a damper on that excitement. The latest Phil to fall victim to the injury bug is closer Brad Lidge, who will miss 3-6 weeks before he can begin throwing again. When healthy, Lidge has proven to be one of the most dominant relievers in the game. To replace that dominance, the Phillies have annointed Jose Contreras as their interim closer. With Ryan Madson reprising his role as a top set-up man, will the Phillies even miss Lidge?
Jose Contreras may not have a long history as a relief pitcher, but his results have been impressive. Over his career, Contreras’ strikeout rate surges from 6.57 to 9.07 when used as a relief pitcher. When used in shorter stints, Contreras experiences an increase of velocity on nearly all of his pitches. Combine that with the fact that Contreras has to go through a lineup only a single time, and it’s easy to see why he has been able to fool hitters more when he pitches out of the pen. These gains seem to be due to Contreras’ new role, and seem completely sustainable going forward. While he lacks the upside of Lidge, Contreras looks like a formidable replacement for the time being.
Should Contreras struggle in his new role, the Phillies could hand the reigns over to the long-time set-up man, Ryan Madson. Madson has the longer track record of success in the pen, and is generally viewed as one of the strongest set-up men in the game. Over his career, Madson has posted his strongest peripherals in high-leverage situations. When pitchers are feeling the pressure the most, Madson has been at his best. In high-leverage situations, Madson is able to raise his strikeout rate while also lowering his home run rate.
For some reason, however, that success hasn’t translated when Madson has had the opportunity to close games. In 44 attempts, Madson has successfully converted 20 saves but has blown 24. By comparison, Kyle Farnsworth has posted 27 saves and 30 blown saves over his career. For a pitcher who has shown the ability to succeed in the most important moments of the games, his struggles in save situations are puzzling. Despite the statistical oddity, there’s no reason to believe Madson would continue to struggle if thrust into the closers role again. If left as a set-up man, we know exactly what to expect from Madson.
Although Contreras will close in Lidge’s absence, Madson will likely be the Phillies best pitcher over that time (and possible even after Lidge returns). The Phillies wisely realized that fact, and Madson will reprise his role as a “high-leverage extraordinaire” again this season. As long as Contreras continues to sustain his gains as a reliever, he should be an adequate closer until Lidge returns. Much of the Phillies’ Spring has been spent trying to find adequate replacements for their injured players. While Lidge’s injury is something to be concerned about, the Phillies definitely have the pieces to replace him without feeling any effects.
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