Hey, look at that: Ryan Madson thriving as the Phillies’ closer

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Last month when Jose Contreras joined Brad Lidge on the disabled list I wrote that it may actually be a semi-positive thing for the Phillies because the injuries gave Ryan Madson a chance to prove that he can be a standout closer.

Far too many Phillies fans had convinced themselves that Madson couldn’t possibly get the job done in the ninth inning because he’s struggled in a few brief closing stints in previous seasons, but my point was simple: Madson has been one of the best, most underrated setup men in baseball since 2007 and there’s nothing magical about the ninth inning.

Here’s a sample of some comments left here at the time:

– God I hate when the stat geeks pontificate about the save stat being meaningless, even when they have the proof right in front of their eyes. I mean, isn’t that what you guys are always spouting to the world … don’t believe what you see, believe the stats??? So if Madson blows an early save or two, or three or however many, that wouldn’t be enough to prove to you guys that he isn’t closer material??? I mean, you boys can’t have your cake and eat it too.

– If Madson is as good as you say he is, then he should not be a different pitcher when he closes. Yet he is. Why? Maybe, and I know, this is just an insane thought, but maybe, just maybe, those last three outs are a little more difficult to get than you stat geeks think?

– Madson, on the other hand, wears his emotions on his sleeve and seems to be affected by the moment. I think he’s hard on himself and seems to lose a little confidence when he gets into some jams, more so in the 9th than when he does in the 8th.

– Have to disagree with you Aaron, I think it does take a special breed of pitcher. He has to forget yesterday and handle the increased pressure. Up to now Madson has not been able to do that.

There’s more where those came from, but you get the idea.

Closing is a role, not a skill. Getting hitters out is a skill and Madson is very good at it, thus when given an extended chance to get established he’s very good at pitching the ninth inning with a lead of 1-3 runs. After closing out last night’s 2-1 win by striking out the side in the ninth inning Madson is 7-for-7 converting save opportunities with a 0.53 ERA, .167 opponents’ batting average, and 22 strikeouts in 17 innings.

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.