Phillies may not hand closer duties back to Brad Lidge right away

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Brad Lidge tossed a scoreless inning at Single-A yesterday in his third rehab appearance and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said afterward that “he threw extremely well.”
“He took a nice step forward,” Amaro said. “His slider was tighter. He had better location. I guess his velocity was 90-91. He felt good. He was much sharper and crisper.”
However, when asked about the Phillies’ plans once Lidge is ready to come off the disabled list manager Charlie Manuel told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that he may not be handed the closer job right away:

We could, depending on where he’s at and how he’s doing. It’s something to talk about. But I don’t know what we’re going to do. It depends on how we’re doing and where we’re at with our pitching. We want to do what’s best for Lidge and the team. First, we’ve got to get him back. We want him healthy, feeling 100 percent. If he’s 100 percent, he’ll have a good feeling about himself.

Amaro had a slightly different take, saying: “He’s our closer. He’s been our closer. He never stopped being our closer.” However, the GM also added that the decision is ultimately Manuel’s to make. “He’ll be used in whatever way Charlie and [pitching coach] Rich [Dubee] feel is best for the club. I assume he’ll be our closer, but it’s up to those guys.”
It’d be one thing if Lidge was coming back from an injury after his amazing 2008 season, but instead he’s coming back following one of the worst seasons by a closer in baseball history. Even without the injuries involved the Phillies would be right to think twice about returning him to the closer role after 11 blown saves and an absurd 7.21 ERA in 58.2 innings.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.