Wish You Would Step Back From That Lidge, My Friend

The fifth-greatest thing that Paul’s ever done in his life happened when we were about 17. We were sitting in the all-purpose room at our church, which is equipped with a basketball net.

Paul was (and still might be, I just haven’t played against him since our freshman year of college so I don’t know) a very good schoolyard basketball player. I had to guard him a lot because we were about the same size, but he’s stronger and faster than I am and I get winded walking up the stairs (in fact, I’m getting winded just thinking about it).

So he picks up a basketball and squats about 45 feet from the bucket at about a 45-degree angle. He squats with his ass facing the bucket and places the ball on the ground like a  long snapper. He says to me, “What will you give me if I make this?” Sure that he won’t make it, I reply with “Oral sex.” His first shot, taken backwards through his legs at an angle from 45 feet away, hits the back of the iron. It took probably a second and a half for the ball to get to the hoop. I was convinced that I was going to have to give him head until the instant that ball hit the rim.

After about 30-40 attempts, he finally made one, but that wasn’t our bet. Thank God.

The third-greatest thing Paul’s ever done was a dance called “Fire” that turned out to be the highlight of his career as an amateur choreographer. If you had seen the dance, you’d understand why that career was a short one.

The two greatest things that Paul’s ever done, well, I don’t want him to boot me from the blog, so I won’t disseminate them in this forum. If you want to know, ask him.

Which brings us to the fourth-greatest thing that Paul has ever done in his life. That is, coin the phrase “Jesus Jetpacking Christ!”

This is at all related to baseball because I’ve thought that very phrase, Jesus Jetpacking Christ!, twice in the past 18 hours vis-a-vis Brad Lidge.

The first was at about 10:59 last night, when Jorge “Cannot!” Cantu (there’s a Bermanism for you) tied the game en route to Lidge’s 11tht blown save this year. I sent the following text message to Paul: “Oh, motherfucker…”

I know that six days ago I said that  there’s no way that I leave him off my playoff roster. I have to reconsider this because of a FanGraphs post from this afternoon that elicited my second “Jesus Jetpacking Christ!”

You see, the biggest reason I wanted Lidge on my roster is that slider of his. It’s probably my…third-favorite pitch in the game after Clayton Kershaw’s curve (to quote The Hunt for Red October: “Christ, that’s a big sucker!”) and Brandon Webb’s forkball, of which it has been said that hitting it is like hitting a bowling ball. I want that  pitch, which I was certain was the best pitch on the Phillies staff (better than Hamels’ change, or Madson’s suddenly-touching-triple-digits fastball, or Myers’ tight, off-the-table curve). And no matter what numbers were attached to it, I thought iwas worth having in a playoff situation.

And it’s been good. I looked at FanGraphs’ page on Lidge. In 2004, that slider was worth nearly 20 runs more than your average major league slider. Now, let’s make sure everyone’s on the same page here. Lidge as a whole wasn’t worth 20 runs more than a replacement-level reliever, or even an average one. His slider alone saved the Astros 19.7 runs  in 2004. Last year, it was almost as good, saving 17.1 runs.

Now because I’m a writer, not a rocket scientist, I know that positive numbers are better, but I have no idea what the  hell that means, so for comparison, Mariano Rivera’s cutter this year is worth 17.9 runs more than average. Troy Percival’s fastball was worth 11.4 runs above average in 2002. Joe Nathan’s 2006 fastball and slider? 12.6 and 13.8, respectively. Eric Gagne’s fastball and changeup were each worth 16 in 2003, which may have been part of the reason that he struck out 14.98 batters per 9 innings, posted a .69 WHIP and a 1.20 ERA, converted 55 of his streak of 84 straight save opportunities and became the only bespectacled French-Canadian Cy Young Award winner. Vivent les lunettes!

So that’s a pretty freakin’ good slider, right? Well this year, it’s about league-average on the slider for the bearded bowler, which sucks because not only has his slider regressed about 17 runs, so has his ramrod-straight fastball, which, even when it was averaging 96 earlier this decade, was never worth more than 5.4 runs. Last year, his fastball was actually  below average by almost three runs. Now it’s only averaging between 93 and 94 and is just as straight, only he can’t  hit the broad side of Ryan Howard with it. And it’s killing him, to the tune of 16.4 runs so far this season. In short, his fastball is about as bad as his slider usually is good.

So I guess I might not want that slider on my playoff roster after all.

With all this hand-wringing, the question remains, what do we do with Brad Lidge?

Well, I originally said keep him in the closer’s role, because Madson, pitching in the 8th and in tie games, was getting more innings in higher-leverage situations anyway. But Lidge has been unjustifiably bad as a closer, too bad to leave in.

Then, I said, let Madson close, but he’s been, well, not as bad as Lidge, but not exactly awe-inspiring. (By the way, did you know that Madson’s added 5.5 mph to his fastball since his rookie year? We forget that he came up as the right-handed J.A. Happ and has morphed into a flamethrower that looks like one of the Kaminoans from Star Wars: Episode II. Maybe Happ will magically start throwing 95 and turn into Andy Pettite. It could happen.)

Then I said, use Myers like the Rays used David Price last year, a guy who could come out of the bullpen and give you 2 1/3 strong innings when you need them most, at the end of close games. Then use Madson and Lidge to nail down the end of victories. But then Myers up and got hurt again.

So what should the Phillies do now about the back end of their bullpen?

I have no idea.

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Filed under 2008-09 Season

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