February 22, 2005

Can Madson stay squeaky clean?


With no starter making it past the 7th inning in the first half of the 2004 season, the work of middle relief became a critical factor in keeping the Phillies in the playoff hunt. In that respect, no pitcher contributed to the success of the team more than rookie Ryan Madson.

When Vicente Padilla and Randy Wolf went down with injury, fans assumed the team would call Madson's name to fill a spot in the rotation. Instead, GM Ed Wade dipped into the free agent pool and signed Paul Abbott. The results were less than stellar, and by the time the regulars regrouped, the race was over.

2004 marked the first time in years the bullpen emerged as a noticeable strength. For mop-up duty, the team would typically slap together a squad of pitchers like Hector Mercado, Dave Coggin and Jose Santiago. But the success of rookie Ryan Madson in the middle was like nothing the team had seen in years.

Though he stuck out his share – 52 for the season and 5.8 per nine innings – Madson's brilliance came from making few mistakes in other areas. He kept the ball on the ground more than any pitcher still on the roster, surrendered 2.2 walks per nine, and less than one homer per nine.

For fans still clamoring for Madson to move into the rotation, understand the team leaned on him like a starter anyway. Bowa handed him the ball for 53 tough innings in the first half, 77 in all before a pinkie injury sent him on the DL. For the season, Madson finished 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA.

Though his success isn't a huge surprise, it's unrealistic to expect the same outstanding results in 2005, and wrong to believe he’s better suited for the rotation than Brett Myers.

Entering the season, there was no book on Madson. Nost NL hitters never faced him and had trouble reading his delivery. Madson also benefited from some pretty good defense. While his ERA is a low 2.34, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching*) was 3.95.

Madson was never as highly-regarded as other prospects, like Myers or Gavin Floyd, but scouts believe his curveball has improved dramatically since the minors, to go with a good change-up and average fastball.

The Phils are thrilled he's become a surprise weapon, arguably the most valuable component of their bullpen, and one of the best middle relievers in baseball last season. Of 22 BPF readers polled, 18 believed the Phillies should keep him in the pen.

As an indication of his worth, this winter he was coveted by several GMs, including number-cruncher Billy Beane of Oakland, who reportedly tried to deal Madson and Ultey away for one of the big three.
*FIP according to Harball Times (www.hardballtimes.com): Fielding Independent Pitching. Essentially an approximation of what the pitcher's ERA would be with an "average" defense behind him. The formula is (13xHR + 3xBB - 2xK)/IP plus a league-specific factor (around 3.20).

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