Brad Lidge says he’s been unlucky in 2009:
“The ball is not bouncing the right way,” Lidge said after a messy ninth inning resulted in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta at Turner Field yesterday. “Last year, it bounced the right way every time, and this year it has not.”
Has Lidge been unlucky? Yes. Far more fly balls are finding their way over the fence this season. Lidge’s HR/FB is an absurdly high 17.2 percent. Last year it was an amazingly low 3.2 percent.
But here’s the problem: even if Lidge were catching all the breaks, he’d still be having a terrible season. Lidge’s walk rate is way up (5.32 BB/9 in 2009 compared to 4.54 BB/9 in 2008) and his strikeout rate is way down (9.55 K/9 in 2009 compared to 11.54 K/9 in 2008).
Also, while a higher percentage of his flyballs are leaving the park, he’s also giving up more flyballs. And that’s a recipe for disaster if I’ve ever heard one. As a result Lidge has given up 10 HR in 2009, compared to only 2 in 2008. And we’ve still got 45 or so games left.
What is at the root of Lidge’s decline?
As Rob Neyer says, “When a player’s performance deviates radically from expectations, we can figure it’s either because of an injury or the vagaries of chance.” Lidge insists he’s healthy, but he said the same thing right up unto the point where the Phils put him on the DL with a knee injury earlier this season. It could be that he’s pitching in pain and he simply doesn’t want to talk about it.
Then again, because this is Lidge, we have to entertain the idea that his struggles are due to neither an injury or bad luck. It could be this is all in his notoriously fragile head.
Only Lidge knows.
During Sunday night’s Phillies-Braves game on ESPN, Steve Phillips mentioned that the league is teeing off on Lidge’s fastball. I mentioned that to Paul in an email, and here’s what he said:
It’s not that guys are teeing off his fastball so much as he’s throwing more fastballs because his slider has become problematic. His slider was worth 17 runs above average last year. This year, it’s -0.9. And consequently, he’s using his fastball more often, which never was a good pitch to begin with, and is losing velocity.
Before this year, Lidge’s best seasons have come when he threw at least 43% sliders. When he dipped below that, he got into trouble. But now that slider has just become ineffective so no matter how many he throws, it doesn’t matter much anymore. I’m not saying he’s done – he could be injured. But he probably won’t be a reliable option for the rest of the year.
One thing is for sure. In 2009, Lidge has found new ways to lose. Over the weekend, he committed two errors on a Matt Diaz sacrifice in the ninth inning to become the fifth player in the last 55 years to be charged with two errors, a blown save and a loss in the same contest.
I don’t know if Lidge’s problems are mental or physical. I just know I’m tired of watching him blow games. And so is everyone else in Philly.
When columnists start advocating the Phils trade for Billy Wagner, you know times are tough.