Back in June, in this very space, I made the following suggestions for Brad Lidge and those watching him:
Step one, stop leaving fastballs in the hitters’ kitchens. Make them go upstairs for it. Step two, get the slider out of ankle-biter mode and make sure you stop leaving it up, too, Brad. Okay, that’s not easy to do. 2008 sure won’t be 2009, given he’s already blown four saves (zero last year) and given up six home runs (two in 2008). But the 7.71 ERA will mellow out and Lidge should be effective, or far more effective, the rest of the way. He’s already settled down, finishing May with four scoreless save conversions. So, step three is for all of us. Be patient.
As September draws to a close, so does Lidge’s reign as closer in Philadelphia. His blown saves and ERA are eye-popping. No amount of waiting paid off in this case.
What happened to Lidge
Lidge is a two-pitch closer, with a four-seam fastball and a slider. The slider, supposedly, can work a few ways. Basically, it’s nasty. But he’s throwing it less in 2009—more on that in a bit.
Starting with the slider and location and swing tendencies:
Lidge’s slider has earned a few less whiffs and been in the zone a little less (that’s a two foot wide plate, too) but nothing drastic. What did happen is simple—hitters stopped taking strikes. This shows up in the “watch” rate (takes in the zone), swing rate and, according to the umpires, a huge change in balls to called strikes.
Changes also can be seen in batted balls against Lidge’s slider:
Trading grounders for pop-ups would actually be a good thing, if a few line drives didn’t come along (if you believe the stringers who record each batted ball). This, as foreshadowed, hints at a location issue.
Last, but not least, home runs per fly and liner, along with linear weight based rv100 (hits and outs) and rv100E (batted ball types)
Still a plus pitch (negative run values are better for pitchers) but not as great, based on rv100E. Since home run rates are, like xFIP, simply the league average for line drives and home runs, the jump in home runs is, in effect, ignored by rv100E. All statiness aside, the home run against Lidge’s slider in 2009, after nary a blast in 2008, stands out.
On to the fastball.
Mixed bag for Lidge’s fastball. More strikes, but fewer swings (and more watches) improved the B:CS ratio. Meanwhile, the whiff rate dropped a third.
In terms of batted balls, there was very little difference in fastball results:
You could argue the pop-ups are a significant loss, and I might agree. It does hint at a lack of success beating guys upstairs, and there’s only a 0.5 mph difference between seasons on Lidge’s heater.
Even with the slide in the slider’s effectiveness, Lidge’s visible pain in 2009 comes, in sum, from the fastball:
Again with the home runs, SLGCON and exploding rv100. The fastball’s rv100E takes a bite, even more than the slider’s.
Simply put, Lidge got less out of both of his pitches 2009. Fly balls that were caught ended traveling into the seats. Batters whiffed less, weren’t fooled as often by the slider and seemingly hit the ball harder. Does location hold the key?
Location, location, location
Lidge’s issues with pitch location, noted in June, persisted. Click to enlarge these images—one shows relative frequency, the other actual pitch count by bucket.
In 2008, Lidge threw a lot of sliders around two feet off the ground. In 2009, he hasn’t been hitting that slot nearly as often. The fastball has been peaking lower in the zone, too. Less whiffs, less pop-ups.
Hey! That’s a testable hypothesis. For another time. Let’s take a look-see at Lidge in the post-season first.
References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision
Pitch classifications by the author