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Should Madson start?

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Update [2006-1-19 0:48:24 by dajafi]: Some variant of this story seems to have popped up everywhere across the Phils blogosphere. I think we did it first, but who cares: point is, a Movement is afoot. In that spirit, a tip of the cap to Tom at Balls Sticks & Stuff for capturing the spirit of the moment in vivid graphical form.

Madson

As the blessed words "Pitchers and catchers report" draw nearer on the calendar, the Phillies are stepping up their promotional efforts to sell tickets and generate some excitement about the 2006 club. The big event today was a Winter Caravan stop at Citizens Bank Park, where GM Pat Gillick surprised observers by stating that his team isn't currently good enough to win the division (an odd way of pushing product, but I guess we shouldn't criticize honesty even when it's evidently a last resort). Later in the day, Phils pitcher Ryan Madson joined in by doing an online chat with mlb.com users. Here's one of the questions he took:

Neal_Jackson: Ryan, would you be more comfortable as the setup man or in a starting role?

Madson: Starting, for sure, because that's what I came up through the Minors doing. But wherever help is needed, I will be more than happy to do it.

Of course, the choice isn't Madson's to make, and manager Charlie Manuel, who joined both Gillick and Madson for the CBP junket, suggested that the third-year big-leaguer will remain a reliever: "I would like to move Madson into the rotation... but the way our pitching sets up, we have to keep Madson in the bullpen."

I certainly see the logic of matching your talent to your needs. Given that Madson has shown he can thrive in a high-leverage relief role and that the Phils have many other options for the bottom of the rotation (Franklin, Floyd, Tejeda, Brito, maybe Dan Haigwood or Ricardo Rodriguez), the decision makes sense in itself. But I don't think it maximizes Madson's value and I hope they reconsider.

Why? Glad you asked...

  • I'm pretty sure that 180-200 innings of rotation work carry a higher value than 70-90 innings out of the bullpen, assuming that the two performances are of roughly the same quality.

  • Madson has said that the problem with his curveball, which flattened out at inopportune times last season, has been simple under-use. As a starter, he threw three pitches: a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a superb changeup, and the curve. In relief, he's mostly thrown the first two, and the curve hasn't always been there when he's needed it.  (Madson also noted in his chat today that he's trying to develop a slider.) A guy with three quality pitches should start.

  • As time goes on, I imagine it might get harder for Madson to make the transition back to starting. It's easy to think of pitchers who rose through the minors and reached the bigs as starters, then transitioned into effective relievers: Eric Gagne and Mariano Rivera are two of many. How many successful pitchers have switched in the opposite direction? Offhand, I can think of three recent examples who tried and failed: Danny Graves, Jeremy Affeldt, and of course Terry Adams in his first stint as a Phillie. (Interestingly, there's another talented young NL East hurler who might try to pull the trick in 2006: the Mets' Aaron Heilman.)

Though both Manuel and Gillick have paid lip service to the notion of Madson joining the rotation, I don't think the organization has viewed him as a starter in anything but desperate necessity. You can debate the merits of paying or overpaying for a pedigreed setup man like Julian Tavarez or Braden Looper, both rumored Phils targets this winter, but signing a guy like that certainly would have signaled a strong preference to move Madson to the rotation. Instead, they inked Ryan Franklin, a crap starter who probably deserved no better than an NRI, to a multi-million dollar deal. And every day seems to bring a new trade rumor that would bolster the rotation--and lock Madson into his relief role at least through 2006. Those actions seem to drown out the spoken words of the skipper and GM.

Poll

How should the Phillies use Ryan Madson in 2006?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Starter. He's more valuable in that role and it's what he wants to do.
    (27 votes)
  • 15%
    Setup reliever. He's shown he can do the job, and that's what the team needs.
    (5 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now