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Madson's starter bid: so far, so good

After a sharp spring debut against the Yankees last Thursday in which he threw two shutout innings in relief, Ryan Madson made his first start since that inauspicious June 2004 night in Chicago on Tuesday against the Devil Rays. The results? Money: the 25 year-old threw three innings of one-run, one-hit ball as the Phils won 5-4, improving their spring record to an irrelevant but encouraging 5-1.

Especially at this early point, though, it's individual progress that matters. For Madson, that means mastering the switch back from pressurized relief work to the more artful approach called for as a starter:

The biggest difference between this year and last is Madson won't get by throwing four-seam fastballs and changeups. He's always had a curve, but barely used it while pitching 77 innings in relief in 2004 and 87 last season. When you face hitters just once a game, pitchers tend to go with their best, and Madson's out pitch is his changeup.

But Madson has worked hard on his curve this spring. He throws it when playing catch and in the bullpen.

"It's coming along great," Madson said. "Today, it was really good. I'm having more and more confidence in it.

"Today, I threw a couple for strikes and they were swinging at it. I want them to swing because that means it looks like a strike or something hittable. I hate when guys don't swing at off-speed stuff. That either means it's not looking good coming out of your hand or they don't think you can throw it for a strike."

I can't remember the last Phillie to move from relief duties to the rotation--Terry Adams in 2002, I guess, but he made the switch as a Dodger the previous season--so it's difficult to really guess at what Madson will do. The various projection systems aren't much help, either.

Madson's Baseball Prospectus PECOTA card (subscription-only) includes projections premised on his reprising the bullpen role he filled in 2004-2005, as does his ZIPS projection, found on Baseball Think Factory. For what it's worth, PECOTA's weighted mean projection for Madson has him going 4-3 with a 3.64 ERA in 68 2/3 innings; ZIPS also predicts a 3.64 ERA (conspiracy?), but a 7-4 record compiled in 84 innings.

Given that he begins the year as the fifth starter and that Charlie Manuel always seems to err (if that's the word) on the side of protecting his starters' arms, maybe a bit more than twice that workload is likely for Madson: let's call it 180 innings. Even with some performance dropoff at the end of the year--not saying this will happen, just positing a possibility, something like 13-9, 4.00 seems most likely to me. If he does that, and Lieber, Myers and Lidle more or less repeat their 2005 performances, barring a bullpen meltdown we're probably talking about a playoff team.