By Eriq Gardner //
The tag line to the film, The Social Network, was this: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
If the film told the tale of Brad Lidge‘s life this past decade, it may have been more complicated. He made millions of friends between 2003-2008 when he was one of the game’s most dominant relievers (7th in the majors in saves during that time, with a 3.04 ERA and 12.5 K/9 IP). He made almost as many enemies the following two years when he posted an atrocious ERA of 7.27 ERA in 2009 and spent a good deal of time on the disabled list in 2010.
But now that the Phillies have “friended” Cliff Lee, the team has potentially one of the most fearsome starting pitching staffs in quite some time, meaning lots and lots of potential wins. Does that also mean fantasy owners should reconnect with Lidge as a potential source of many saves on that winning team?
Let’s first examine the correlation between saves and wins. In the following graph, you’ll see five years of team data that chart a team’s win total to its team save total:
The correlation above might not seem so evident, but it’s there. (The correlation coefficient is 0.66)
Others have noted the connection between wins and saves. In an article last year for Beyond the Box Score, Jeff Zimmerman did his own study and noted that 46% of a team’s closers’ ability to get saves depended on the number of games the team is above .500. A closer on a 100-win team has a 95% chance of bagging more saves than a closer on a 62-team win. Wins and saves go hand-in-hand because quite simply, every save is by definition a win.
Of course, that’s just one part of the story.
Being in a winning situation creates opportunity, but opportunity doesn’t necessarily translate to saves success. Some closers don’t take advantage of their opportunity. If sub-par relievers don’t have the skills to hold the lead, they simply won’t get saves. (Some might lose their jobs.)
Back to Brad Lidge — he’ll now be on a winning team. Will he be good enough to share in the success?
Judging by his surface stats upon his return from elbow surgery last season, some might hope that’s the case. He saved 27 games in 32 opportunities last season with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings. Not too shabby.
However, there are still red flags on Lidge. His strikeout rate looks good at 10.25 K/9 IP, but it’s short of his career mark of 12 K/9 IP. Meanwhile, his walk rate has been climbing (up to a ghastly 4.75 BB/9 IP in 2010) and his rate of giving up home runs is also less than favorable. His peripheral stats added up to a 4.06 xFIP last season, which clearly indicates that luck played a role in Lidge surviving last season as Philly’s closer.
What’s most worrisome about Lidge is his slipping velocity. Last year, his fastball was clocked at an average speed of 91.7 MPH, down from a career average of 94.7. As a result, he threw the pitch less often — down from nearly 53% of the time throughout his career to just 40% last season. In turn, he’s been relying more and more on his slider — a very good pitch, to be sure — but it’s also just one pitch. Batters will come to the plate and know what’s coming.
Unfortunately, the trends suggest that Brad Lidge shouldn’t be tagged by fantasy owners. For Phillies fans, there is a bright spot: Cliff Lee finished last season with seven complete games, second in the majors only to his new teammate, Roy Halladay, with nine. Both aces can go the full nine-inning distance, and in such games, no closer will be needed. The social network of the Phillies pitching staff might work out anyway.