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Cory Lidle: Second-Half Stopper

As the hours dwindle down toward Monday's 4pm trading deadline, fans' expectations for an overhaul of the perennially disappointing Phillies are also beginning to erode. Nobody wants overpaid, obnoxious, strikeout-prone Pat Burrell; Bobby Abreu's power outage seems to have turned off potential suitors; and both corner outfielders have no-trade baggage courtesy of departed GM Ed Wade. As many as ten teams are reportedly interested in Dave Dellucci, but the Phils would rather keep him as a low-cost alternative to one of Burrell or Abreu. If DD gets moved, it likely won't be until sometime on Monday, after all hope of trading either of the higher-paid guys is gone.

And my personal biggest disappointment is that Pat Gillick hasn't yet managed to shed any of the Phils' three veteran lefty relievers: Rheal Cormier, Arthur Rhodes, and Aaron Fultz. None will likely be with the club next season, all have been very effective at some point or another in the last year, and all could help contenders; what's the holdup?

That leaves two veteran starting pitchers, Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle, who've been heavily scouted this week at Citizens Bank Park. Happily, both won, as Lieber recorded his first victory in more than two months with seven solid innings Wednesday night and Lidle followed with eight strong frames of four-hit, two-run, eight-strikeout ball against Arizona yesterday to win his fourth straight decision. But neither is regarded as a shut-down starter who's likely to make a difference in the close wild-card races in both leagues. Listening to the guys on Baseball Tonight or reading, the "experts'" distaste for both Lieber and Lidle is almost palpable, as they wistfully sigh for rumors of Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis on the move. Even Livan Hernandez, lugging a 5.70 ERA through the first four months, is mentioned as a more attractive trade candidate than the Phils' #3 starter.

The irony is that Lidle, a notorious strong finisher, might be as likely as either of those two "aces" to put a playoff hopeful over the top.

Lidle's second half in 2005 wasn't actually all that: struggling with minor injuries and still-mysterious off-field issues, he went just 5-5 with an ugly 6.03 ERA after the break last season. But in September, as the Phils were making their ultimately doomed push for the wild-card, he went 4-1, 3.38. The year before, acquired in August from the Reds, he went 4-0, 3.23 in his last six starts. Over his career, Lidle is 31-16, 3.53 from August through the end of the regular season.

How does that compare to the higher-profile--and more expensive--pitchers who might or might not be on the trading block?

Cory Lidle 31-16 3.53 1.19 408 33 111 242
Barry Zito 39-20 3.01 1.15 469.1 36 177 382
Dontrelle Willis 14-13 3.41 1.26 229.1 21 76 165
Livan Hernandez 34-37 4.04 1.36 675.2 69 241 453

In short, pretty well. Zito's clearly been a better second-half pitcher, and Willis's numbers are dragged down a bit by his rookie season of 2003, when he tired down the stretch. But Lidle's late-season performance is clearly better than that of Livan Hernandez, and for that matter compares well to a lot of established starters contenders are counting on who won't be on the move. (Josh Beckett has a career record of 18-14 from August 1 onward; Mark Buerhle is 32-22; Chris Carpenter is 18-19; Brandon Webb is 13-13.)

Also of note, as Gillick ponders offers for Lidle, is that he's likely to be classified as a Type A free agent this winter; if the Phils offer arbitration, Lidle probably won't accept, and a team that signs him will forfeit their first-round draft pick next June in addition to the supplemental pick the Phils will receive. Any trade offer, then, should have more value than two picks within the first 40 or so players selected in the next amateur draft.

Oh, yes--Jon Lieber's been a pretty good second-half pitcher in his own right:

Jon Lieber 38-27 4.18 1.22 594.2 78 108 462

Let the bidding begin! Well, resume.