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Friday, July 09, 2010

Time to Replace Brad Lidge

Last night, the Phillies were up 3-2 over the Reds in the top of the ninth. The Reds tied in on a two-out double by Miguel Cairo, a journeyman whom the Phillies picked up last year off the scrap heap and who is now a utility infielder for the Reds. The Phillies pitcher? Brad Lidge.

It looked like a no brainer in the middle of the 2008 season, after the Phillies acquired Lidge and Eric Bruntlett from Ed Wade's Astros for Michael Bourn and Geoff Geary. Lidge was so good that, by the middle of the magical 2008 season, the Phillies inked him to a three-year deal (for about $12 million per). Bruntlett fared well in '08 as a utility player, but he fizzled badly last year and has ventured to parts unknown. Geary, always a solid middle reliever, is hurt, and Bourn transformed himself from a fast player with OBP issues into an All-Star this year (take that, Shane Victorino!). Look, it was a good trade for the Phillies, as Lidge's excellence at the back end of the 'pen in 2008 assured a World Series victory.

Fast forward two years, and Lidge is in the second year of that three-year deal, and the deal is proving to be about as bad as Pat Gillick's biggest free-agent signing during his tenure with the Phillies -- yes, I'm invoking the name of Adam Eaton. Eaton was so bad that the Phillies released him with one year and $9 million left on his deal before last season (the last year on his contract). Lidge has proven to be just as bad -- if not worse -- and he has a year and a half left on his deal. During the contract, he has been plum awful. The only reason he continues to close is because either the Phillies are convinced they have no one else or, more likely, because they've invested so much in him that they will give him time to pitch out of his funk.

But at what cost?



The Phillies are vulnerable now. It's hard to win consistently when the last four hitters in your lineup are named Dobbs, Schneider, Valdez and your pitcher, especially when the first three are replacing guys named Polanco, Ruiz and Utley. It's also hard to win when your bullpen is iffy (compounding what now looks to be the Lidge blunder is the bad signing of Denys Baez, about whom Baseball Prospectus warned everyone). And lest anyone think that I'm piling on either Gillick or GM Ruben Amaro, remember that they offered Lidge the lucrative deal after 1 partial season in Philadelphia, which followed a roller coaster's worth of seasons in Houston. Put differently, it was a risky signing.

And it's risky putting him in there. On some nights, even the best closers don't have their best stuff. Their breaking balls don't bite, their fast ball is a foot short. But when you watch Lidge, you get amazed by how poor his command is -- he'll bounce balls in the dirt, throw them way too high, way too outside or way too over the plate. He groved one to Cairo, which just goes to show you that even a below-average Major League hitter can smoke on when a pitcher does everything other than put the ball on a tee for him.

If the Phillies are to contend, they need to put Lidge in a set-up role or a middle relief role, and turn the closer's role over to someone else. Scott Mathieson fared well in the closer's role at AAA Lehigh Valley, and now might be the time to give him a chance.

Before an over-reliance on "Lights Out" Lidge turns the lights out on the Phillies' season.


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