A couple of days after missing out on a marquee free agent (Prince Fielder), the Washington Nationals signed former All-Star closer Brad Lidge to a one-year contract. Lidge, 35, will make $1 million guaranteed and potentially a lot more with incentives. Will this move solidify the Nats’ bullpen and help them possibly contend in 2012?
Washington may have had the best duo of relievers in terms of the 8th and 9th innings last season, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was getting to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen and that’s where a few leads were blown and games given away. Lidge, who was injured most of last season, has the chance to be that guy in the 7th inning and also save Clippard’s arm. Clippard, although a former starter, recorded five outs or more in 19 games last year. Most of those were in high-pressure situations and if the Nats contend, Clip could be fresh for the stretch run (see Venters and Kimbrel for the Braves). Henry Rodriguez can throw a baseball faster than anyone in the league, but control issues made him an ineffective late-inning reliever at times. This move also helps Sean Burnett, who I believe was pressing last year.
In order for Lidge to become an effective pitcher again, his fastball velocity needs to get some of its sizzle back. According to FanGraphs, his average velocity was 89 MPH and threw the pitch only 28% of the time, both career lows. His injury certainly took some velocity, but as well as confidence because it wasn’t as good as it used to be. His slider used to be one of the most devastating pitches in all of baseball. But we can attribute this decline to aging and pitchers that want to prolong their careers need to adjust and maybe that’s what Lidge needs to do. He used to throw a change-up once in a blue moon, but but that pitch on the back burner the past two campaigns. He’s not going to blow hitters away anymore and pitching coach Steve McCatty has work to do.
With an offseason to recover, Lidge will probably be the healthiest he’s been in about two years. Although he didn’t have a horrible 2011 season, there is severe doubt among fans that he can even come close to the dominant pitcher he was in the mid-2000s. Look at it this way for Washington: it’s not like this is a high-risk signing. For the richest owners in baseball, $1 million to them is like a penny to you and me. In an age where relievers have been getting 3-year deals at a record pace over the past few seasons, this deal isn’t going to set the team back at all financially. So why not take a chance on someone who strikes out nearly 12 batters per nine innings and sports the 6th most saves amongst active pitchers with 223? Let’s not forget to mention that he knows the Phillies’ hitters inside and out. This signing will prove dynamite and with the addition of a wild card spot, could propel the Nats to playoff contention, even in September.