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Just The Sports: Brad Lidge (A.A.)

Just The Sports

Monday, April 23, 2007

Brad Lidge (A.A.)

Before Albert Pujols homered off of Brad Lidge in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, knocking in two runs and winning the game for the St. Louis Cardinals over the Houston Astros, Lidge was on his way to establishing himself as one of the top relief pitchers in the league. The Astros, as a team, were able to shake off Lidge's blowing of their lead in Game 5 and prevail in Game 6 to win the NLCS, but Pujols's home run seem to have marked a turning point in his career, one that has resulted in a downward spiral.

In the over 280 innings Lidge pitched, including that now ill-fated postseason series with the Cardinals, Lidge did a more than adequate job shutting down the opponents' bats and protecting the Astros' leads. He struck out opposing batters to the tune of 12.96 per nine innings while only walking 3.63 hitters per nine inninings, a sparkling 3.6:1 K/BB ratio. In addition, Lidge only allowed .64 home runs per nine innings and a .207 GPA (a variation of OPS; read like a batting average) so when players were getting hits off him, the hits were doing very little damage. More importantly, Lidge's fielding-independent ERA was 2.64, demonstrating again how proficient he was at keeping his walks and homers down while keeping his strikeouts high. As walks, strikeouts, and homers allowed are a direct reflection of a pitcher's ability, there is no underestimating Lidge's positive contributions to the Astros during the first four years of his major league career.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed for Lidge and none of it good. Including the Houston Astros 2005 World Series appearance against the Astros up to Lidge's most recent one-inning relief appearance against the Philadelphia Phillies, Lidge's strikeout rate has dropped to 12.55 K/9 while his walk rate has increased to 4.55 BB/9. While both of those changes in production is troubling enough, even more troubling has been the extent to which he has failed to keep the ball in the park. His home run rate has basically doubled to 1.37 HR/9 and as a result his fielding-independent ERA, where home runs allowed are weighted heavily, has jumped up to 4.19. As for the gross product average (GPA) Lidge has allowed, it also has increased, from .207 to .266.

The problem with Lidge's decline is that it is not simply the result of more balls falling between Astro defenders so there is no reason to expect him to return to his pre-Pujols homer form in the near future. Giving up home runs is not so easily correctable, which means other teams should think twice before taking on a reliever with a confidence that has been shattered beyond repair.



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